It’s a strange thing to move from the nonprofit to the entrepreneurial world. Strange as in disorienting and destabilizing and ultimately, liberating.
Because in a nonprofit (most nonprofits: there are, as always, exceptions) there are so very many lids on the possibilities. Decisionmaking is rarely streamlined or fast or nimble; passion matters more than practicality. But more than that, money runs the show.
It’s ironic, because money is supposed to be outside the issue for a nonprofit. Money is supposed to be beside the point. But precisely because it isn’t supposed to matter, it matters more than anything.
Try to have a new idea in a nonprofit. Want to see how long it takes before someone wants to know what it will cost and where the funding will come from? Use a stopwatch. For that matter, watch yourself try to have a new idea. How long before YOU ask where the money is coming from?
Drilling even further into the massive dirty laundry pile that is finances without money, take a look at rates of pay. There is an assumption that persons working for a nonprofit should expect to be paid less than their for-profit peers.
This is absurd.
Equal work for equal pay: across gender lines, across age lines, and across institutional lines. A nonprofit is nonprofit because it doesn’t make money for owners or shareholders, but not because it doesn’t pay its people. Unfortunately, this is what we as a culture have come to expect.
We criticize endlessly if people get paid at nonprofits. We complain about EDs who get CEO-like-salaries. Why? Do we not want to compensate talent and skill when it is working for the common good? Should it only be profitable to be brilliant if you work for a soul-sucking megacorporation? Is there something morally wrong with having a good income?
We love that these groups exist to do the work and organizing that we don’t have the time, energy, or skill to do, but we don’t want to actually pay someone to do it. And then we wonder why those groups are struggling to change the world.
When we focus the conversation on how terrible it is for them to spend money on things they find important, we are completely undermining their work and diverting their limited energy, time, and resources from the work we want them to do to arguing with us.
And if any institution has a massive gap between the highest and lowest paid employee, perhaps the question is why are the people at the bottom of that scale paid so LITTLE, not why the CEO is paid so much. Let’s adjust the scale UPWARD until it makes sense.
There is a third, insidious effect to this undervaluing of humans. It creates an entire culture where shoestrings are virtuous and sufficiency is considered luxury. It creates and supports a culture where struggle is deified, turned into some kind of god for which we must strive. And it means that we have no idea what our skills are worth in the rest of the world, or what it might be fair to be paid. The nonprofit world creates an insular subculture where valuing the self at a reasonable market rate is considered uppity and unreasonable. In a perennial culture of scarcity, no one wants to look up from the microcosm to find out that their rates and expectations are twenty or thirty years behind. So instead they put intense social pressure on everyone inside the container to stay the hell down.
and the people all said sit down! Sit down you’re rockin’ the boat. –Guys and Dolls
Minimum wage in Australia is $22/hr.
Twenty-two dollars. AND they have health care.
So when I say that my educated, skilled, practiced time is worth five times that, I’m not crazy. And in the world of entrepreneurs, indeed I am not. Consulting and presentation and workshop rates reflect that. They reflect that rate for the hours on the stage and the hours backstage, traveling, getting ready. They reflect the risk that we take on as entrepreneurs, the money we invest up front, the cancellations, the technical work, the marketing, the infrastructure that makes it possible for us to be hired. They reflect the actual cost of business. They reflect what it costs to do it well and have everyone feel good about it.
But if you start from a nonprofit where getting paid $10/hr seems like a huge upgrade from minimum wage (and you should be grateful!) or where your senior leadership is paid under $50,000/year, it is hard to even THINK numbers that big.
It is like speaking a language where there is no word for grass and then starting a lawncare business.
It requires years of rethinking to formulate a vocabulary which includes those possibilities. It is a major internal cultural shift to value yourself well. And if you continue to keep company with those who have a different sense of the financial value of a person, it is even harder.
This is not about being ungrateful. This is about knowing your worth.
Because when you are paid well, you have mental and emotional space to do what you are here to do, which is not worry about money. You release stress and pain. You take on pleasure as your compass. You make better decisions.
Because you–and the world–are worth it.