What funders can do to combat burnout among nonprofit workers


The workers in the non-profit sector are not okay. Decades of inadequate pay, overwork and little respect for their needs, compounded by COVID and other crises, are causing nonprofit workers to turn to unions and even exit the sector altogether, as Inside Philanthropy, the National Council of Nonprofits and other publications have said everyone reported. At this point, everyone in the philanthrosphere who not Knowing nonprofit workers are suffering probably doesn’t pay attention.

But while there is much information out there about the magnitude and causes of this crisis, there has been no single source for funders and nonprofits to learn specific, actionable steps they can take to create the kind of sustainable living wage jobs that enable non-profit organizations to carry out their tasks most effectively in the long term. That situation changed earlier this month when All Due Respect and Staffing the Mission released Sustainable Jobs for Organizers: A Toolkit for a Stronger Movement, a 35-page action plan for nonprofits and funders alike. Don’t let the title fool you: while All Due Respect’s efforts focus on nonprofit organizers, and the toolkit itself uses organizing language, the toolkit is a valuable guide for nonprofits and funders across the board.

The majority of the toolkit is devoted to what nonprofits can do, outlining 10 key areas they need to address to create a sustainable workplace. These include obvious factors such as pay, insurance and working hours, but also less tangible – albeit equally important – issues such as the quality of care and ‘caring workplace conditions’.

Of course, without adequate funding, nonprofits cannot remove many of the barriers that stand between the jobs in the industry that exist today and the better, more sustainable jobs they truly aim to create. The toolkit addresses these barriers directly in its final section, which consists of a discussion guide and specific recommendations for funders, focusing on two key areas: full-cost funding and open communication.

Most of the recommendations listed under full-cost funding will be familiar to anyone following the growing chorus of voices calling for an end to restrictive grant-making. Specifically, the toolkit asks funders to take action, such as: B. Evaluating nonprofits based on their success with their stated goals and impacts instead of the money they spend on overheads, increasing grant amounts to cover costs such as staff increases and benefits, and allowing grantees to switch the way, how they spend grants when their needs change.

None of this should come as news. It should also come as no surprise that the report suggests that funders cover these increased costs by expanding payouts and eliminating waste and redundancies in their own budgets to free up more money for nonprofits.

But where the toolkit really shines is on its open communication page, which seeks to bridge the pervasive power imbalance between funders and grantees by providing opportunities for nonprofits to communicate their real needs without fear. For example, the toolkit suggests that grant providers openly ask about the full cost of running the entire nonprofit and simplify their application forms and processes. However, the toolkit’s strongest recommendation in terms of communication is also the easiest to implement: funders should make a clear statement on their websites, applications and grant letters that they want to support good jobs with grants.

Funders looking to take this communication a step further are encouraged to “consider adding questions about salary levels, benefits and internal pay structures to application forms in a non-threatening, supportive tone to show that the foundation is committed to supporting good jobs want to contribute. ”

“A virtuous cycle” of communication between donors and grantees

The Sustainable Jobs Toolkit is the result of a collaboration between All Due Respect, an organization formed in 2020 to set new working standards for community organizers, and Staffing the Mission, a class action project aimed at providing funders and nonprofits with ways to improve that Life of Nonprofit Employees. Most of the data the toolkit relies on comes from a study All Due Respect conducted in partnership with the Ford Foundation from 2020, in which the organization surveyed and surveyed more than 200 organizers, business leaders and funders. Staffing the Mission provided additional data from a survey it conducted for its 2020 Staffing the Mission report.

All Due Respect and Staffing the Mission are part of a number of organizations, including Fund the People and the Wellbeing Project, that have overlapping approaches to improving the lives of nonprofit employees. On the funding side, the Wellbeing Project’s Funders & Wellbeing Group is involved in the case, as are individual funders such as the Durfee Foundation and others, who provide additional grants to promote the wellbeing of nonprofit workers. The Nonprofit Finance Fund also called for full cost financing; As noted, there have been too many calls for funders to relax their restrictions and wallets to adequately summarize in this area—calls that, for the most part, remain unheeded. What sets the Sustainable Jobs Toolkit apart is that it’s the first document we’ve seen that attacks the hunger cycle of nonprofits with recommendations for both nonprofits and funders.

This approach is no accident. According to Alicia Jay, co-director of All Due Respect, the toolkit reflects her organization’s theory of change. “It really takes all three of our key audiences, directors, organizers and funders to actually make significant changes for organizers,” she said.

Betsy Leondar-Wright, the mission’s human resources coordinator, said nonprofits have a certain responsibility because they “are not telling the truth about what’s going on in their organizations.” “They really want to sound sane,” rather than risk punitive action from funders, she said. Instead, Leondar-Wright continued, the goal of the toolkit is to help both sides create “a virtuous cycle, an upward spiral” of communication — a cycle that must begin where the power lies, which is why the toolkit calls for it urges funders to communicate frequently and consistently their desire to fund good, sustainable jobs. “Right now, everyone in the nonprofit world assumes that funders want an organization to be able to achieve this huge, unrealistic amount with an unrealistically small amount of money,” she said. Funders who clearly communicate otherwise could help change this status quo.

“These are the ones who haven’t figured it out yet”

The toolkit is still very new, but Leondar-Wright told IP that she received enthusiastic responses to a presentation she chaired that showcased the toolkit, and Jay of All Due Respect said that so far, “people on the hungriest, the lightest, and appreciating the work are burnt-out organizers.” Additionally, Jay said, she gets the impression that nonprofit directors are genuinely grateful that outsiders—two organizations with no prospects for grants— Speak clearly about the responsibility of philanthropy to heal the nonprofit starvation cycle.

Where the metaphorical gum really hits the streets, however, is the reception the toolkit and its recommendations are receiving from top decision-makers at the funders themselves. Organizers, other nonprofit employees, nonprofit executives, and even individual foundation program officers may all be grateful for the toolkit and want to put its recommendations into action. But as Leondar-Wright has heard from both program leaders and nonprofit employees, the people who really need to see the toolkit are members of the foundation’s board of directors. “These are the ones who haven’t figured it out yet,” she said.

Ultimately, however, fund leaders, including board members, must answer a simple question, if only for themselves: How can a foundation claim to have lofty goals such as alleviating poverty, ending systemic racism, and creating a better… want to follow the world? all people if its financing practices actually make the world worse for the workers tasked with realizing these goals?

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