Respect,” Martin Abegglen

August 5, 2019; Governing

For the second time in a week, we find an excellent article in Governing, the magazine for public sector professionals, that helps illuminate the requirements for the key relationship that local governments have with local nonprofits.

In this case, Susan N. Dreyfus, president and CEO of the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities (ASFAC), and Tracy Wareing Evans, president and CEO of the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA), take on the need for government policies and practices that address the wage concerns of frontline human services workers. They point out two such initiatives as examples:

Last month, the Seattle City Council passed a bill that requires the city to adjust contracts for community-based organizations that provide human services, indexing the contracts to inflation. This measure is intended to address the chronic issue of employee turnover from low-paying jobs in the nonprofit human services sector. Across the country, the sector has seen staff turnover as high as 50 percent annually….

A similar move is underway in New York City, where Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced a new labor deal to close a wage gap between early childhood education staff at community-based organizations (CBOs) and city Department of Education (DOE) employees with the same credentials. With CBO educators making an average of $20,000 less per year than DOE employees, the gap has caused an exodus of teachers from CBOs that provide crucial universal pre-kindergarten education.

The two then go on to reference myriad other problems governments impose on hardworking nonprofits, including in many cases refusing to pay the full costs of a contract, and bedeviling them with unnecessarily burdensome administrative requirements. All of these smack less of respectful partnership and more of abusive relationships.

They cite a study released last year by ASFAC and APHSA, authored by Oliver Wyman and SeaChange Capital Partners and funded by the Kresge Foundation and the Ballmer Group. The study recommends writing certain measures into the contracts of nonprofits and their frontline employees to overcome some barriers to sustainability. At the end, they conclude that “a long-term solution will require a comprehensive response from CBOs themselves, as well as from government and the philanthropic sector.”

It’s a statement worth rereading. There is no excuse for allowing entire fields of nonprofit workers to be so underpaid that many must use public benefits to survive. Nonprofits have every right to expect their funders to demonstrate responsibility to long-term partners, but this expectation goes unmet in too many cases . To get better results, the authors say, nonprofits must make themselves heard collectively, as must their allies in communities and governments.—Ruth McCambridge