June 30, 2011; Source: Lincoln News Messenger | Times remain tough for the sector. State and local governments continue to trim budgets, cutting services delivered in tandem with nonprofits. Private giving is slowly recovering but GivingUSA notes that donations to human service organizations saw a slight decline in 2010.

Nonprofits have had to improvise to weather the financial crisis. Some are keeping afloat by forgoing salaries to their executives or by compensating their managers at the barest minimum.

The Friends of the Lincoln Library and the Lincoln Area Archives Museum in California for instance were purposely set-up to be all-volunteer operations. And the Police Activities League (PAL) pays its sole employee only a little over twice the minimum wage to run its youth center for a mere 12 hours per week.

Despite the modest compensation the center director gets, Steve Krueger, PAL’s executive director still feels the need to justify what they were paying the center director, arguing that “given the large amount of responsibility, importance and influence on our youth the director has, the money is clearly well-spent.”

If the director’s position is so pivotal, why pay him only so much and have him work part-time? Krueger’s apologetics inadvertently perpetuates the belief that nonprofit workers are in it not for the money but for the profound satisfaction they get from working in nonprofits. And that they are passionate about the cause and committed to the job, regardless of remuneration.

In part as a result of this thinking, managers in the sector earn 18 percent less than their counterparts in the private sector, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Keeping costs down is to be expected and commended during these lean times. But is under compensating nonprofit workers the right way to go? Are they worth less than private sector workers? And should nonprofit leaders be the ones perpetuating this unhelpful meme?—Erwin de Leon