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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