Fair Pay

A sad, but all too common problem was presented on NTEN‘s main discussion forum yesterday:

An IT Director in New York City, working for a large nonprofit (650 people, multiple locations, full IT platform), got approval from his boss to hire in a Systems Administrator (punchline here) at $40,000 annually. Understand, System Administrators rarely make less than $75k a year at similarly sized for profits. The boss pulled that number out of a salary survey, but, given the quality of it, I say he might as well have pulled it out of a hat.

Determining what’s fair — or, as we call it “market” — pay is an art in itself, and good salary surveys, like the one NTEN produces, offer far more than suggested wages – they provide context, like location, industry standards; they discuss trends, and the best ones frame the survey results in what the numbers should mean to us.

So, when I read the NTEN survey, and saw what were still ridiculously low salaries in comparison to the for-profit pay scales, I didn’t read it as “these are good numbers”. I read it as “our industry doesn’t value technology.” Literally. If our salaries are at 50-75% of the rest of the world’s, how are we going to attract long-term, talented people? And if we have a revolving door of mediocre (or, more accurately, some stellar, some miserable) sysadmins running our critical systems, how much money, productivity, and plain competence at our important work are we going to sacrifice? What’s the cost of maintaining instability in order to save bucks on payroll?

So my pitch is that we have to stop thinking that there’s a metric called nonprofit wages. There are market rates for positions, and there is a value in serving a mission. So a nonprofit salary is a market salary (what a for profit would pay), less the monetary value of being able to serve the mission.

Nonprofits can’t keep thinking that they exist in some world within a world. They complete with all businesses for talent, and, in the IT realm, for profits not only offer better compensation, they offer more toys, bigger staffs (which translates to more techies to pal around with, something a lot of my staff have missed in nonprofit), and, often, newer technology to learn and deploy. In our field, it’s all about current skills.

So I feel for my compatriot in NYC, and hope that he can muster a case for his boss, for both his and his bosses sake. If NTEN is reading, a great accompanying metric for the salary survey would be IT turnover tracking, as well as interims when key poisitions (CIO, Sysadmin) are unfilled. Info on how that impacted business objectives. We need to do more than just report on the pay – we have to document the impacts.

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2 thoughts on “Fair Pay

  1. Holly

    Hey Peter – NTEN is reading! We DID in fact track length of tenure in the first part of teh IT staffing survey. There was no way to correlate salary and tenure, but we could correlate org size and tenure, and since salaries were higher at large orgs overall, you can draw your own conclusions. Here’s the excerpt:

    “Again, the difference in length of tenure was most striking when examining employees who stayed less than one year at an organization.

    • Organizations In Trouble reported that on average 35% of their IT staff had tenures of less than one year.

    • Organizations that are Lagging Behind reported that on average 15% of their IT staff had tenures of less than one year.

    • Average organizations reported that on average 4.9% of their IT staff had tenures of less than one year.

    • Organizations that are Fast Followers reported that on average 3.8% of their IT staff had tenures of less than one year.

    • Organizations that are on the Leading Edge reported that on average 4.7% of their IT staff had tenures of less than one year.

    Because larger organizations tend to self report at higher levels of technology adoption, it is difficult to know which of these traits is related to the length of IT staff tenure, if either are related, or if it is a combination of both.”

    Both IT Staffing reports can be found at: http://nten.org/research/it-staffing.

  2. dean matsueda

    Good stuff — and I’ve been enjoying your contributions to the NTEN discussion list.

    One thing that strikes me as perhaps part of the problem with NGOs living in a world within a world is how we use the not-for-profit badge as a crutch or a justifiable excuse to offer 50-75% below market-rate salaries.

    I understand and know all too well the economic realities for NGOs but there is, I think, an ingrained mind-set that assumes it’s perfectly reasonable to, in some cases, grossly underpay talented and dedicated staff under the “we’re a non-profit” banner.

    That mind set has gotta change along with your point about realizing that we are competing with the deep pockets in the private sector for talent.

    Doing good and saving the world starts at home. 🙂

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