Saturday, August 06, 2005

Ethical dilemma

I've posted a bunch recently on ethics and on my hope that the current surge in requests for talks on ethical issues and ethics policies is not just a passing fad.

But this last week, I had a chance to delve deeper into an ethical issue that all nonprofits face: what to offer in benefits for paid employees. It's the topic of my newsletter this month, and a concern for any thoughtful exec or board member.

Here is the dilemma:

Benefits are expensive and getting moreso every year. By spending more on benefits, we have less for salaries, and less for other mission activities. But with pay so low in general, benefits become even more important for some families, while others would simply like the cash to pay rent, utilities and buy food for the family.

Then there is the entire associated issue of living wages, which really gets to the heart of the matter: what we're doing (in minimum wages, in shared benefit costs, in huge deductibles) simply is not enough, not right, not ethical for many of our employees.

I wish I had an answer. I know that not-for-profit managers worry about this alot-they tell me. And, if we don't treat our employees right, how will they treat the people we are in the business to serve?

I've long said that nonprofit employees aren't in it for the money, but money IS important, and stuff does happen. Regular readers know about my January fall when I broke my ankle. Not bungee jumping, just walking the dog--current "cost"? Over $18,000 in bills from doctors, hospitals, radiology, etc. That's what someone who was uninsured would have to pay.

Let's see: If I make, say $7 an hour, and work 40 hours a GROSS salary for the next 64 weeks is taken up paying that bill. That's gross, not net after taxes and, of course, during that time I don't get to spend anything on anything else....this is why health insurance is so important, for full and part time staff.

Now I'm depressed. Anyway, check out the resources that I came up with in the newsletter. Perhaps you can rethink your own benefit array at your organization.

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