Thursday, November 19, 2009

Why can't I get paid enough?

Last week I was up at the fall retreat for the East Coast Lutheran Volunteer Corps, which set me up with a non-profit communications gig that pays $105 a month on top of room and board. We were in a vocational workshop discussing the work we do in our respective non-profits when I got bored. Without much else to do (I can't afford an I-phone), I started doing some calculations to determine the amount of donations it would take to to elevate myself and my friends from stipended volunteers to fully-paid employees.

Since we are all recent college grads, I figured we'd be thrilled with $30,000 a year. Thirty thousand times 40 (the number of volunteers on the east coast; there's about 100 throughout the country) equals $1.2 million.

That's a lot of money, I thought. Assuming a $100 donation per person, it would take 12,000 people to support all of us annually, not including benefits.

Not too encouraging. Twelve thousand people is a lot to coerce into supporting the work of 40 non-profit sector go-getters. But, I thought, what if everyone in the country gave? Assuming a $100 average donation, that would be over $30 billion! Enough to support a work force of 1 million people! And probably most people give way more than $100! More money for me (and for all the services non-profits provide)!

My dreams of a living wage while changing the world were saved, as long as we could just get more people to donate. I started to feel better and tuned out the rest of the workshop, thinking about all the I-phones I could afford with my soon-to-be salary. If people would just give more to charities, or simply start giving,  more resources could flow into so many different areas; programing would increase, range of services would increase, and peace on earth would soon follow.

I went online to back up this inspiration with some numbers when my dreams immediately crashed down around me once again. Turns out, about 70-80 percent of American households already give to charities each year and the average household gives around $1000 annually, for a total of about 300 billion overall. Only a third of donations go to churches, not a majority like I assumed. The non-profit sector already employs around 10 million people, many more than the 1 million I thought would result from increased donations.

How could I have been so wrong? With all this money--the civil society sector amounts for about 7 percent of the US's GDP--how can there be such big problems in the philanthropic sector? And why am I making so little?

I had fallen into the "big push" mentality of many others.  I assumed that more money would fix a problem. But, as I found after a quick Google search, the philanthropic sector is not in need of more resources. Not to say it couldn't use them, but of greater concern is how to use the resources it already has. (If you are skeptical of the problems in the non-profit sector, read "The End of Charity," also linked above.)

More effective use of resources will solve problems before an increase in resources will. We shouldn't expect more money to fix a broken system. We need to look to accountability and efficiency to keep the good non-profits in business and let the ineffective ones fail. By weeding out the bad ones, donations will shift to organizations that have proven success or great potential.

Of course, these effective charities might not use their increased revenue on salaries, but at least I can keep on dreaming.

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