During a coffee meeting with one of Lexington’s performing arts groups staff members, I learned that an organization called CivicLex* had performed a far reaching and in depth survey of the workforce in the nonprofit sector.
The survey is titled Toward Viability and addresses things like the workplace environment, workforce engagement, workforce health, workforce equity, and workforce retention.
Upon reading the summary of the survey available here, I wanted to both share with you a summary, and offer some thoughts on how the Lexington Kentucky nonprofit sector can improve.
For the report, CivicLex addressed the structure, performance reviews, employee/board policies, committees, and board engagement. Essentially, the report found that nonprofits are lacking in a lot of the basic documents and plans that most nonprofits in other areas have, thinks like strategic plans, or criteria for board member selection.
From a human resources perspective, the report found that few organizations have a mechanism to report HR issues discreetly to their board, which is a vulnerability of the organization when harassment comes into the workplace.
What CivicLex found in their research was revealing.
Nonprofit workers in Fayette County seem to love the concept behind their job more than the job itselfToward Viability – CivicLex
Further, roughly a third of the employees of nonprofits consider leaving their job because of ineffective leadership, micromanagement, and poor communication with their constituents.
This is another revealing aspect of the study, that nonprofit workers in Fayette co. don’t earn as much as their for-profit peers. This is a common reality in the world, that nonprofits don’t pay as much as for-profit organizations. Even so, an employee should be able to make a living wage to afford housing, have a family if they desire, and have parental leave policies.
The report found that the Lexington area is at a high risk for losing it’s talented workforce in the nonprofit sector. Many younger workers don’t see opportunities in Fayette County to advance a career.
The turnover in nonprofits cost the organizations much more money and consequently can’t be as efficient in accomplishing their goals or mission.
Given the frank and maybe even grim findings that CivicLex found in their survey, what can be done about it? Certainly I could take many blog posts to address this, and may in the future, but for now I think that there are probably two or three things that can be said now.
Change the term
I believe that instead of calling an organization a “nonprofit” we begin by changing the term to “for purpose”. As long as we declare in some way that we aren’t supposed to profit from our activities as a choral group, performing arts ensemble, etc. we almost always begin from a diminished view of the fundamentals of our mission and the role money plays in achieving it.
For me, calling an organization “for purpose” is much more clear and definitive and galvanizes those who are also in support of the purpose of the organization. Nonprofit? Eh… we can’t make a lot of money so we can’t afford to pay people to fulfill our mission.
Change our mindset
I’m sure that there is a lot to be said about how the greater Lexington area community could have a greater impact for
nonprofits for purpose organizations, but let’s start where we can, with our own organizations and change our mindset.
We need to change our mindset in the ways that ascribes value to the work that for purpose orgs undertake. Maybe the point of the report is to shed light on the fact that people in the for purpose sector don’t make as much as the for-profit sector for a reason. I think that just because one works for a for purpose organization does not mean that the worker should be paid less for the work that she does. The truth is, and probably the reason why people think about leaving the sector in the first place is because they think or know that they can be paid more if they work in a different industry. Should it be that way?
What this means is that perhaps leadership and boards of for purpose organizations need to work hard to bring equity to the positions in their organizations with their for-profit counterparts.
Perhaps they take their fund raising and development operations to a new level and revamp their operational guidelines.
Perhaps they look at the way that they currently fund their work and look at new ways to achieve the same ends, but differently?
At least in Lexington, Kentucky the for purpose sector has many opportunities to improve their workforce, according to CivicLex’s study Toward Viability. If Lexington is to be able to see growth in that sector, then we should change the term and change the mindset of those who work in and around the sector.
Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the report? How can Lexington improve it’s for purpose culture and workplaces? Let us know in the comments below.
*Jonathan Gaby has worked with CivicLex in the past in a volunteer role as a Copywriter during a Lexington Make a Mark Event in Lexington, KY