Tag Archives: compensation

It’s Past Time For The Overtime Change

Last week, the house held hearings on the new overtime rules that double the base salary requirement for exempt employees. With these changes, if you make $47,476 a year or less, you can not be granted exempt status and, therefore, must be paid overtime when you work extra hours (per your state regulations). The hearings were dramatically one-sided, with tMoney bagestimony from a stream of nonprofits and small businesses that oppose the increase. My hope is that the politicians that staged this play had to look pretty far and wide to find nonprofits willing to participate, but I doubt that they did.

We can’t change the rest of the world by abusing the piece that we manage. If we want to cure diseases, reduce poverty, help Veterans or protect the environment, we can start by building an effective organization that is motivated and resourced to make a difference. And that means that we reasonably compensate our staff. I’ve blogged before on my take that the perk of serving a personally meaningful mission can offset some of my salary requirements, but that the discrepancy between a nonprofit salary and what one could make next door can’t be too vast, because too large of gap leads to high turnover and resentment.

What needs to be understood about this overtime law is that it isn’t setting some new bar. It’s addressing an existing abusive situation. The justification for exempt status revolves around the responsibilities an employee has, and their leverage to influence the success or failure of the company. Managers can be exempt. People with highly specialized skills can be exempt. And the odds are, if you have people on your payroll who, by being bad at their jobs, can sink your nonprofit, you’re already paying them $50,000 or more. It’s simple risk management: you don’t want to undervalue your critical personnel.

Accordingly, if you’re Easter Seals of New Hampshire (one of the nonprofits that testified at the hearing), and you’re saying that this increase will destroy your business, then I’m here to tell you that it’s one in a number of things that are lined up to take you down, starting with the mass walkout you might experience if your overworked and underpaid staff get fed up.

In my time in the nonprofit sector:

  • I’ve learned of nonprofits that exploit “apprentice laws”, allowing them to pay people as little as $5 an hour to do repetitive labor while the CEO makes hundreds of thousands.
  • I regularly see talented people ditch nonprofits after two or three years of doing amazing, transformative work, but never seeing a raise for it (or a penny of overtime). It takes these orgs months on end to recover.
  • And I’ve seen nonprofits loaded with staff that have worked there for decades, doing their job in the same ways that they’ve done them since “Microsoft” was a company name yet to be coined.

Because paying people fairly and competitively isn’t a giveaway. It’s a sound business practice. And we can’t continue to say that we are the people improving lives when we’re abusing those closest to us. This increase is long overdue and, if it breaks the back of a nonprofit to compensate staff for working long hours, then they are supporting the wrong mission to begin with.

It’s Time For A Tech Industry Intervention To Address Misogyny

News junkie that I am, I see a lot of headlines.  And four came in over the last 30 hours or so that paint an astonishing picture of a  tech industry that is in complete denial about the intense misogyny that permeates the industry.  Let’s take them in the order that they were received:

First, programmer, teacher and game developer Kathy Sierra.  In 2007, she became well known enough to attract the attention of some nasty people, who set out to, pretty much, destroy her.  On Tuesday, she chronicled the whole sordid history on her blog, and Wired picked it up as well (I’m linking to both, because Kathy doesn’t promise to keep it posted on Serious Pony).  Here are some highlights:

  • The wrath of these trolls was incurred simply because she is a woman and she was reaching a point of being influential in the sector.
  • They threatened rape, dismemberment, her family;
  • They published her address and contact information all over the internet;
  • They made up offenses to attribute to her and maligned her character online;
  • Kathy suffers from epileptic seizures, so they uploaded animated GIFs to epilepsy support forums of the sort that can trigger seizures (Kathy’s particular form of epilepsy isn’t subject to those triggers but many of the forum members were).

The story gets more bizarre, as the man she identified as the ringleader became a sort of hero to the tech community in spite of this abhorrent behavior. Kathy makes a strong case that the standard advice of “don’t feed the trolls” is bad advice.  Her initial reaction to the harassment was to do just what they seemed to desire — remove herself from the public forums.  And they kept right after her.

Adria Richards, a developer who was criticized, attacked and harassed for calling out sexist behavior at a tech conference, then recounted her experiences on Twitter, and storified them here. Her attackers didn’t stop at the misogyny; they noted that she is black and Jewish as well, and unloaded as much racist sentiment as they did sexist.  And her experience was similar to Kathy Sierra’s.

These aren’t the only cases of this, by far.  Last month Anita Sarkeesian posted a vblog asking game developers to curb their use of the death and dismemberment of female characters as the “goto” method of demonstrating that a bad guy is bad. The reaction to her request was the same onslaught of rape and violence threats, outing of her home address, threats to go to her house and kill her and her children.

So, you get it — these women are doing the same thing that many people do; developing their expertise; building communities on Twitter, and getting some respect and attention for that expertise.  And ferocious animals on the internet are making their lives a living hell for it.  And it’s been going on for years.

Why hasn’t it stopped?  Maybe it’s because the leadership in the tech sector is in pretty complete denial about it.  This was made plain today, as news came out about two events at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference running this week. The first event was a “White Male Allies Plenary Panel” featuring Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer; Google’s SVP of search Alan Eustace; Blake Irving, CEO of GoDaddy; and Tayloe Stansbury, CTO of Intuit.  These “allies” offered the same assurances that they are trying to welcome women at their companies. A series of recent tech diversity studies show that there is a lot of work to be done there.  But, despite all of the recent news about Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, etc., Eustace still felt comfortable saying:

“I don’t think people are actively protecting the [toxic culture] or holding on to it … or trying to keep [diverse workers] from the power structure that is technology,”

Later in the day, Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, stunned the audience by stating:

“It’s not really about asking for the raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along.”

Because having faith has worked so well for equal pay in the last 50 years? Here’s a chart showing how underpaid women are throughout the U.S. Short story? 83% of men’s wages in the best places (like DC) and 69% in the worst.

Nadella did apologize for his comment. But that’s not enough, by a long shot, for him, or Eric Schmidt, or Mark Zuckerberg, or any of their contemporaries. There is a straight line from the major tech exec who is in denial about the misogyny that is rampant in their industry to the trolls who are viciously attacking women who try and succeed in it. As long as they can sit, smugly, on a stage, in front of a thousand women in tech, and say “there are no barriers, you just have to work hard and hope for the best”, they are undermining the efforts of those women and cheering on the trolls.  This is a crisis that needs to be resolved with leadership and action.  Americans are being abused and denied the opportunity that is due to anyone in this country. Until the leaders of the tech industry stand up and address this blatant discrimination, they are condoning the atrocities detailed above.

Postnote: The nonprofit tech sector is a quite different ballpark when it comes to equity among the sexes.  Which is not to say that it’s perfect, but it’s much better, and certainly less vicious. I’m planning a follow-up post on our situation, and I’ll be looking for some community input on it.

 

It’s Time To Revamp The NTEN Staffing Survey

cover_techstaffingreport_2014_smallNTEN‘s annual Nonprofit IT Staffing survey is out, you can go here to download it.  It’s free! As with prior years, the report structures it’s findings around the self-reported technology adoption level of the participants, as follows:

  • Stuggling orgs have failing technology and no money to invest in getting it stabilized. They have little or no IT staff.
  • Functioning orgs have a network in place and running, but use tech simply as infrastructure, with little or no strategic input.
  • Operating nonprofits have tech and policies for it’s use in place, and they gather input from tech staff and consultants before making technology purchasing and planning decisions.
  • Leading NPOs integrate technology planning with general strategic planning and are innovative in their use of tech.

The key metrics discussed in the report are the IT staff to general staff ratio and the IT budget as percentage of total budget.  The IT->general staff metric is one to thirty, which matches all of the best information I have on this metric at nonprofits, which I’ve pulled from CIO4Good and NetHope surveys.

On budgets, an average of 3% of budget to IT is also normal for NPOs.  But what’s disturbing in the report is that the ratio was higher for smaller orgs and lower for larger, who averaged 1.6% or 1.7%. In small orgs, what that’s saying is that computers, as infrastructure, take up a high percentage of the slim budget.  But it says that larger orgs are under-funding tech.  Per Gartner, the cross-industry average is 3.3% of budget.  For professional services, healthcare and education — industries that  are somewhat analogous to nonprofits — it’s over 4%.  The reasons why we under-spend are well-known and better ranted about by Dan Palotta than myself, but it’s obvious that, in 2014, we are undermining our efforts if we are spending less than half of what a for profit would on technology.

What excites me most about this year’s report is what is not in it: a salary chart. All of the prior reports have averaged out the IT salary info reported and presented it in a chart, usually by region.  But the survey doesn’t collect sufficiently detailed or substantial salary info, so the charts have traditionally suffered from under-reporting and averaging that results in misleading numbers.  I was spitting mad last year when the report listed a Northeastern Sysadmin salary at $50k.  Market is $80, and the odds that a nonprofit will get somebody talented and committed for 63% of market are slim.  Here’s my full take on the cost of dramatically underpaying nonprofit staff. NTEN shouldn’t be publishing salary info that technophobic CEOs will use as evidence of market unless the data is truly representative.

I would love it if NTEN would take this survey a little deeper and try and use it to highlight the ramifications of our IT staffing and budgeting choices.  Using the stumble, crawl, walk, run scale that they’ve established, we could gleam some real insight by checking other statistics against those buckets. Here are some metrics I’d like to see:

  • Average days each year that key IT staff positions are vacant. This would speak to one of the key dangers in underpaying IT staff.
  • Percentage of IT budget for consulting. Do leading orgs spend more or less than trailing? How much bang do we get for that buck?
  • In-house IT Staff vs outsourced IT management.  It would be interesting to see where on the struggling to leading scale NPOs that outsource IT fall.
  • Percentage of credentialed vs “accidental” techs. I want some data to back up my claim that accidental techies are often better for NPOs than people with lots of IT experience.
  • Who does the lead IT Person report to? How many leading orgs have IT reporting to Finance versus the CEO?

What type of IT staffing metrics would help you make good decisions about how to run your nonprofit? What would help you make a good case for salaries, staffing or external resources to your boss? I want a report from NTEN that does more than just tells me the state of nonprofit IT — that’s old, sad news.  I want one that gives me data that I can use to improve it.

 

The Palotta Problem

uncharitableIf I have a good sense of who reads my blog, you’re likely familiar with Dan Palotta, notable in the nonprofit world for having raised significant amounts of money running the Aids Rides and Breast Cancer walks.  More recently, he’s become a outspoken and controversial crusader for reform in the sector.  He did a much-viewed Ted talk, and he’s written a few books outlining his case that “The way we think about charity is dead wrong”. And he keynoted the recent NTEN conference in Minneapolis.

Palotta’s claim is that nonprofits, in general, are their own worst enemies. By operating from a puritanical, self-sacrificing ethic that says that we can’t pay ourselves as well as for profit companies do, and we can’t invest heavily in marketing and infrastructure, instead prioritizing that every penny go to our program work, we are dramatically ineffective. He is advocating for a revolution against our own operating assumptions and the Charity Navigators, tax codes and foundations that are set up to enforce this status quo.

His message resonates. I watched his Ted talk, and then his NTEN plenary, and tears welled in my eyes on both occasions   They were tears of frustration, with an undercurrent of outrage.  I doubt very seriously that my reaction was very different from that of the other 1500 people in the room.  We are all tired of the constant struggle to do more with much less, while we watch entertainers, athletes and corporate CEOs pocket millions. Or billions.  And this is not about our salaries.  It’s about the dramatic needs of the populations we serve; people who are ransacked by poverty and/or disease. Should reality TV stars be pocketing more than most NPOs put annually toward eradicating colortectal cancer or providing legal assistance to the poor?

But, as I said, Palotta is a controversial figure, and the reactions to him are extreme to the point of visceral.  Even among his most ardent supporters, there’s a bit of criticism.  The key critical threads I heard from my NTEN peers were distrust of the implied argument that the corporate model is good, and frustration that a person who did well financially running charities is up there being so critical of our self-sacrifices.  In fact, since his nonprofit went under amid a storm of criticism about his overhead ratio.  Reports are that it was as much as 57% (depending on how much the reporter dislikes Palotta, apparently). That’s between 17% and 42% more than what nonprofits are told to shoot for, and are assessed against. But the amount of money he raised for his causes was ten times that of any similar efforts, and it does dramatically illustrate his point. How much opportunity to raise money is lost by our requirement that we operate with so little staff and resources?

I’m sold on a lot of Dan Palotta’s arguments. I don’t think that NPO’s have to emulate corporations, but they should have equal opportunity to avail themselves of the business tactics, and be measured by how effective they are, not how stingy. But I still can’t rally behind Dan Palotta as the leader for this cause.  It’s one thing to acknowledge that the nature of the “do-gooder” is one of austerity and self-sacrifice. It’s another to criticize it. Because, while most of us can recognize the disadvantages that our nature tends towards, we’re proud of that nature. It’s not as much a bad business orientation as it is a core ethical life view. The firm belief that relieving the suffering of others is of greater personal satisfaction and value than any financial reward pretty much fuels our sector. So standing on a stage and chastising us for not being more competitive, more greedy, and more self-serving, no matter how correct the hypothesis, primarily offends the audience.

By putting this criticism front and center, rather than acknowledging the good intentions and working with us to balance them with a more aggressive business approach, Palotta is undermining his own efforts. The leader who is going to break these institutional assumptions is one who will appreciate the heart of the charity worker, not one who – despite their good intentions – denigrates us. I applaud Palotta for raising a lot of awareness. But I’m still waiting to meet the people who will represent us in this battle. Palotta has raised the flag, but I’m not convinced that he’s our bannerman.

NTEN, NTC And Technology

The Nonprofit Technology Conference was held in snowy Minneapolis this year and, as usual, a good time was had by all, despite some painful plane delays and dramatic turnover in the NTEN staff. The choice of Dan Palotta as keynoter was, in many ways, a great one, not because he had much to say to the nptech community in particular, but because what he has to say is thought-provoking and controversial. At a time when NTEN, itself, is going through a big period of change, it was appropriate to take on the dialogue about the nonprofit sector as a whole.

From my less-trendy-social-media,-more-tech perspective, the conference had some high points. Matt Eshleman led a very practical and informative session on IT governance , taking a wonky topic and bringing it down to earth. And I sat on a fairly heated panel debating the role of IT, where the four of us mostly agreed that the chief technologist needs to be at the management level, but had a variety of ideas about what the role entailed. The conversation got a bit wild when we got to IT compensation, with all four panelists vying for the mic and three of four of the audience jumping up as well. It’s clear that while we mostly challenge Palotta a bit and do think that working for a mission justifies making a little less than our for-profit peers, we need to remain competitive in order to attract and maintain good technologists. Irrespective of IT, we can’t let people who do inspiring work in our sector go on to live in poverty or on the streets – their contributions are worthy of more than just respect.

All that said, the technical sessions this year, once again, were hard to tease of of the huge array of social media and Web offerings. Despite hard work curating the IT Staff track, Online Fundraising and Facebook strategy sessions still made the NTEN cut for the IT Staff track, where they don’t belong. I’m told that this is because some presenters insist that IT Staff is the audience that they want to reach, but that doesn’t explain to me why it belongs in the track. The track should adhere to the interests of the group that it’s named for.  If the IT Staff session draws a majority of communications or fundraising staff, well, it wasn’t an IT Staff session . Fail!

Here’s the challenge. It’s twofold. Lindsay Martin-Bilbrey, NTEN’s Program Director, tells me that they receive five times as many submissions for the Communications track as they do for the IT Staff track. And the IT Staff submissions are often multiple sessions by the same people. I think this is a cultural issue, and a bit of a catch-22. IT Staff are generally not outgoing people, in the way that Communications staff are. We’re inwardly-focused, and generally not comfortable presenting to crowds. There are exceptions, like me, Matt and Donny, but we aren’t the norm. So Lyndsay and I agree that we need to do something to support and engage the millions of techs working at NPOs. The Communications staff don’t have us outnumbered. But it’s going to take some intervening.

So I’m here to intervene. If you do tech work at a nonprofit, and you have expertise in the current trends, such as Voice Over IP telephony, Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, Software As A Service, Bring Your Own Device, online backup, cloud, and dashboards, we need sessions on all of these topics at 14NTC. It’s not enough to just show up; I’m asking you to submit a session. If you want help preparing it, coaching on presenting, or a strong Co-Presenter, I’ll help with that or help arrange it. The truth is that NTEN can’t address the comm/tech imbalance without the explicit help of the npTECH community. So let’s do our part, and keep the tech in nonprofit technology.

Compensating for Chaos

This post originally appeared on the Idealware Blog in July of 2009.

In 2000, after spending 15 years at corporate law firms, I made a personal choice to start working for organizations that promote social good by reducing poverty and protecting our planet. I understood that this career move would put some serious brakes on what was a fairly spiraling rise in compensation – my salary tripled from 1993 to 2000. And that was fine, because, as I see it, the privilege of being compensated for doing meaningful work is compensation in it’s own right.

We all know that we make less in this industry than we might in the commercial world, and we’re all pretty okay with that.  But how much, or how little, the discrepancy between “real world” and nonprofit salaries should be is a metric with little established thought behind it.  We don’t base our pay scales on any rationale other than what we determine others are paying and what we can afford. My concern is that, by not taking a strategic, reasoned approach to compensation, nonprofits are incurring far more unnecessary expense than they might, particularly when it comes to technology support, although these thoughts apply across the org chart.

The problem is that, when it comes to determining the market value of a nonprofit employee, we often go to nonprofit salary surveys, such as the one put out by NTEN and the Nonprofit times. But job seekers don’t read those surveys.  In San Francisco or New York, a good System Administrator can make $70-80k a year at a for-profit.  Even if they come in to your org understanding that they aren’t going to be offered the market pay ($75k), they have an expectation that they’ll either be on the low end of it ($70k), or within 10% of it ($67.5k).  The recent NTEN Staffing Survey puts the average nonprofit Sysadmin salary at $52k, which is about 75% of that market. So, given this scenario, here are my questions:

  • How many excellent candidates are eliminated from consideration because they can’t afford to take a 25% pay cut?
  • Of the ones who can afford that pay, how many can afford it because they aren’t qualified for the work required?
  • How many can afford it because they have other primary income sources, and therefore can take a low paying job and not feel very committed to it?
  • If a good Sysadmin takes a job at that rate, how long will it be before they decide that they need more money and leave?
  • What is the impact of having a heavy rotation among the staff that maintain and upgrade your technology?
  • What is the impact of having of having often empty critical IT positions?

But, let’s get really into this. Unless the IT people that are hired at the 75% rate are extremely mature, then they might have some of the common failings of immature Sysadmins:

  • Many are often controlling and secretive. I’ve been in multiple situations where I’ve come into an organization and learned that the prior IT staff left with the key system passwords.  I’ve also seen numerous situations where the IT staff left en masse.
  • Most Sysadmins are lousy about writing things down.  What is the ramp-up time for your new staff when they have to research and guess how everything works on arrival?
  • The general instinct of a new IT person is to rip everything out and install their favorite things. Got Windows? They like Linux.  Got Word? They like Google Docs.  They don’t necessarily understand that one platform is much like another, but imposing massive change on an organization can be dangerously disruptive.

Technology candidates need to be assessed not only for their technical skills, but also for their attitude and maturity.  A very sharp tech, who can answer all of your Outlook questions, might have little patience for documenting his or her work or sharing knowledge with other technical staff. And those skills are the ones that will allow you to transition more smoothly when the tech leaves.

Mission is a motivator, and it has value that can be factored in to overall compensation, but not to the point where it’s so unattractive that it knocks the pool of candidates down to a pool of uncommitted or desperate ones.  The impact of paying poorly isn’t isolated to the salary bucket on the balance sheet.  In many cases, particularly with technology, it’s tied directly to the ability to operate.

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.

The $10/hr Dilemma

Everybody who enjoys calling tech support, raise your hand.

No one?

As a long-time IT Director, who came up through the system administration ranks, I dread those situations where the deadline is near, the answer is far, and the only option is to call the company’s support line. Mind you, it’s never my first option – a well-phrased Google query, first sent to the web, then to Google Groups, is far more likely to get an answer quickly. And there are those application manuals, gathering dust – the best ones will have good indexes. Also, decent applications have online support forums, and the best ones let you search without joining first.

What makes me crazy is this: the chances that the $10/hr front line support person answering the phone will know more about the application than I do are slim. This isn’t arrogance, it’s experience. I’ve almost certainly installed more applications in my career than he or she has ever used. And I know, for a fact, that that support person has a script — a series of questions that they have to ask me verifying that I’ve tried all of the things that I’ve already tried.

So my mission, should I be lucky enough to accomplish it, is to bypass all of this. Sometimes I can, sometimes I can’t – kind of depends on how much independent thought the $10/hr type is willing to apply. Here are my techniques:

  1. Remember that I’m speaking with someone who makes $10/hr (or less, particularly if it’s outsourced to another country) to take all sorts of abuse. I’m patient, polite, gracious. It’s not their fault that I have the problem, whatever the problem is.
  2. Appeal to their intelligence. Experience, which I have the edge on, isn’t intelligence, and salary level isn’t an indicator, either. If the support dude feels like I’m treating him or her respectfully, they’ll be more motivated to really help me.
  3. That said, still be authoritative and a touch arrogant. Let them know that you are not a novice. “I’m IT Director for a national organization and have years of experience with all types of software. I have a specific question about this feature; I have tried all of the standard debugging methods and have been through the manual and support forum. If you are not the person most knowledgeable about this area, can you connect me to someone who can assist me?” Goal here – skip to the higher level tech support, do not pass go, do not collect half an hour of aggravation.

I don’t vary any of this for U.S. based vs. outsourced support. It’s the same job and territory. If anything, based on experience, it does seem to me that the outsourced first-level support is often more knowledgeable than American counterparts, maybe because it’s not an entry level job in India or China, or one with high turnover, as it likely is here.

[This post is a shout out to friends in the NTEN IT Directors Affinity Group, a few of whom made the request]