The Willamette Week Give!Guide annually handpicks nonprofit organizations to support during the end-of-year holiday season (141 in 2016), and awards cash prizes (the “Skidmore Prize”) to a group of outstanding professionals aged 35 or under in the nonprofit sector. In particular, the Give!Guide aims to promote early patterns of philanthropic giving among individuals aged 35 or under and highlight important work in the Portland community.
Up until this year, the Skidmore Prize requirements included a salary cap - in 2016, nominees had to make less than $40,000 annually. While YNPN Portland appreciates the efforts to celebrate high-quality nonprofit sector employees at the direct service level, this requirement unfortunately perpetuated the belief that paying nonprofit employees a noncompetitive wage is both acceptable and laudable. However, this year, the Give!Guide has updated its requirements for the Prize to only require that a nominee be 35 or younger and work more than 32 hours per week for a Portland-area nonprofit. YNPN Portland stands strongly in support of this change.
Why is this important?
Highly-skilled employees are attracted by good pay and benefits. And with better pay and benefits available in both the public and private sectors, the nonprofit sector struggles with attracting and retaining employees with higher education degrees, deep knowledge of the community served, and/or specialized training. Requiring applicants to earn a noncompetitive salary perpetuates the idea that nonprofit work should be a sacrifice, or that nonprofit leaders are not worthy of competitive investment.
Highly-skilled nonprofit employees achieve better outcomes for society. Treating social sector work as “casual” diminishes the potential of these outstanding employees. Nonprofit organizations perform incredibly critical functions in our communities. Last year’s finalists were providing culturally specific health care services, reducing drug use among homeless teens, and improving education outcomes for Oregon’s students. Given what we expect nonprofits to accomplish for vulnerable populations, the time has long been ripe for an examination of how we support nonprofit organizations and compensate nonprofit employees.
Nonprofit compensation is an income equality issue. When people think about working families qualifying for social benefits, they primarily think of fast-food industry or retail workers. However, researchers at the UC Berkeley Labor Center estimate that 27% of workers in the health and social services field qualify for social service benefits, outpacing the average of 25% across all sectors. Yes - you read that right: more than a quarter of those workers make low enough wages to qualify for the services they provide. Setting aside the overall cost to taxpayers as a result of noncompetitive wages, the expectation that nonprofits offer diminished wages perpetuates the very social problems the sector exists to solve.
Certainly, the Skidmore Prize is a small piece of a much larger debate on nonprofit pay and how we evaluate the importance of effective nonprofit work. But even a small change in requirements for the Skidmore prize can spark a conversation and encourage nonprofit supporters to examine their notions and biases about the social sector. As our members are both a primary target of the Give!Guide campaign, and the potential beneficiaries of the Skidmore prize, YNPN Portland is glad to see thoughtful leadership on the deeper challenges facing nonprofits. We look forward to another successful campaign of elevating and celebrating outstanding nonprofit organizations and their employees.
Know an outstanding young professional deserving of the Skidmore Prize? Nominate them by June 30.