As we move into the second half of 2016, it makes sense to take some time to assess some of the areas where third-sector organizations are beginning to truly establish progress for themselves and for the sector in general, while also looking at areas where further focus and improvements are warranted.
Where Nonprofits are Winning
Salaries are becoming comparable to public-sector levels.
In recent times, third-sector workers have finally begun to see offers that are close — if not equal — to comparable public-sector positions, specifically at entry- and lower-levels of employment. Even more exciting is the much higher salary ceiling that third-sector workers are capable of attaining as they move into executive leadership positions. Where public-sector salaries are generally capped based on rank/level and years of experience, nonprofits have a bit more discretion in deciding how much to compensate high-performing individuals. This can result in salaries that easily top six figures (and beyond)!
There’s an increasing willingness to adopt more flexible organizational structures.
The public sector is not exactly known for its use of innovative organizational structuring and similar arrangements. Even some private-sector companies are adopting less flexible work arrangements which may ultimately help the bottom line but may be hurting employee morale. With third-sector organizations, there is a historic standard of being more flexible about organizational structure that is apparent even in some larger organizations. In many cases, the less traditional structures exist mainly due to necessity with small staffs having to get creative about how they allocate their human resources. However, the willingness to employ less overwhelming structures and to be more open to the unique needs of staff members, as well as clients and constituents alike, can result in a more enjoyable and even a more personal experience for those who work for or with these organizations. Whether there are more opportunities to “telecommute” or increased accommodations made for “retired” workers who still desire to serve but do not want to work full-time, the willingness to be flexible and to work with employees based on their unique needs and preferences has put the third sector at the forefront of progressive organizational structuring.
Where Nonprofits Need to Cover Some Ground
Unfortunately, there are still a couple of areas of significance where third-sector organizations are finding themselves needing to “catch up.” While this list is far from exhaustive, if the sector devotes a degree of time and effort to addressing these key issues, the returns are likely to be exponential.
Lack of established and comparable benefits packages for a number of organizations.
As mentioned earlier, salaries within the third sector have been creeping up to levels that are almost comparable to equivalent public-sector positions in recent years. While this is reason for optimism, there are still pretty of significant differences in overall compensation packages between the sectors. The public sector is known for generous benefits packages that oftentimes include both attractive health insurance and retirement plans. Unfortunately, many nonprofits, especially smaller outfits that don’t have the resources or capacity to match retirement contributions or fund health service accounts or other plans nor the scope to justifiably incorporate large plan management services, simply cannot offer comparable packages. However, more and more organizations are beginning to experiment with alternative approaches as they grow and are putting in effort to offer at least some kind of fringe benefits packages for employees. Although matching retirement funding may not be possible, setting up programs that allow employees to invest in their retirements in a tax-free manner is a step in the right direction that many organizations are taking.
Shortage of graduate programs devoted specifically to nonprofit management.
While the number of domestic universities that offer MBAs seems to extend into the thousands (only a slight exaggeration!) the number of graduate degree programs that are devoted specifically to nonprofit management, administration, or leadership is extremely low. Depending on how programs are classified, a conservative estimate would place the total at 40 to 50 programs nationwide!
The importance of graduate education in nonprofit leadership, management, or administration should not be understated. Although there are plenty of opportunities to get involved with third-sector organizations, regardless of education or employment history and experience, the fact that those within these organizations oftentimes wear a number of “hats” or are thrust into positions of authority from the early stages, makes the knowledge derived from these programs that much more valuable and immediately useful and applicable.
While there are a number of nonprofit-related “tracks” that are offered within graduate degree programs (usually public administration or business administration programs), these programs don’t have the same nonprofit-focused “base,” as their primary focus is generally on the program’s main theme. Core courses will almost exclusively involve either public or business administration principles, leaving only elective courses to cover the nonprofit-related content. Thankfully, nonprofit programs appear to be on the rise, probably in response to growing interest in third-sector work. Also, if one is interested in a graduate degree program that is devoted exclusively to nonprofit management theory and practice, they should look no further than the MS in Nonprofit Management program at Johnson & Wales University (the Nonprofit Management concentration of the JWU MBA program is an excellent choice, as well!).