Do Underpaid Employees Perform Better Due to Dedication?

September 14, 2018

Paying a non-profit employee is always fraught with issues — there is never a right number. Somebody is always disappointed. It could be the employee or it could be the employer. Far too often, donors (and some boards) feel that job satisfaction (i.e. relating to the cause) is an intrinsic workplace benefit and is usually worth $X dollars in someone’s compensation package. I vividly remember the first capital campaign that I ran for a Catholic church in Hamilton — there were to be significant renovations to the manse (where the priest lived) — and the parishioners were up in arms that they were installing air conditioning.

There is a theory that paying a person more increases the chances that their employment is financially motivated as opposed to mission motivated.

Why is that a binary thought? Why can’t both mindsets coexist?

Historically, nurses and teachers have encountered this same wage conundrum based on an assumption that an underpaid employee performs better because of their dedication. I call BS on this.

Everything changes when supply outpaces demand. In that case, all bets are off.

I have read that the non-profit employment world is very similar in thought to the nursing world. Many believed that the shortages of nurses could be fixed by bringing in new nurses — there was a push at universities to do just that. There was a Labor Policy Adviser in the US who said “There is not an actual shortage of nurses at this point. Instead, there is a shortage of nurses willing to work under the conditions currently offered by the hospital industry.”

To extrapolate, the fundraising workplace is very similar. There is not a shortage of enthusiastic and energetic fundraisers. The shortage comes from the growing unwillingness to tolerate conditions that interfere with their ability to do their job and find meaning in their work.

In the nursing world, the shortage that was experienced was based on decisions of years past — wage freezes, reductions in nursing staff and increased patient load. Many nurses simply ‘had enough’ and quit.

Sound familiar?

Many times, the healthcare profession looked at nursing as an expense. The same is true for fundraisers. Boards look at these professionals as an expense, not an investment. Where else can you hire someone (and typically they bring in three to ten times their salary in ‘sales’) and still say ‘cut’?

We need to create (and sustain) workable conditions whereby the employees can feel that they are making a difference in people’s lives, including their own.