Charities Struggle to Balance Living Wages With Fragile Budgets
tion’s chief executive, acknowledges that it’s still not much
money. “We help them get their
CDA, and then we help them get
food stamps,” she says ruefully.
at each center who help parents
apply for aid programs are also
available to staff members.
During tax season, for example, the group pushed to make
sure both families and employees understood what the earned-income tax credit was and how
to determine if they qualified.
Says Ms. Draeger: “Anything
that we would do for our families, we would also do for our
Workers do not currently receive health insurance, but Mr.
LeBlanc is already anticipating that the charity may have
to provide it in 2014 under the
new federal health-care law.
“The social worker part of me
says, ‘Well, we need to be able
to provide the health-care ben-
efit,’” he says. “The business-
jobs. Now some charities are
starting to see signs that the
reprieve is coming to an end.
“One of my
indicators that the
economy is getting
better is our turnover
is going back up.”
Health-care and social-service nonprofits rely heavily on
government contracts. Charity officials say the main reason they can’t pay workers more
is low reimbursement rates—
which, in recent years, have declined or remained flat, due to
state budget gaps.
Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans employs more
than 160 personal-care attendants who provide services that
allow people with intellectual
disabilities to live on their own.
The average wage for those positions is $8.70 an hour.
In 2006, Louisiana increased
its Medicaid reimbursement
rate to $16 an hour, which allowed the charity to increase
wages to their current rate, says
Jim LeBlanc, head of Volunteers of America Greater New
Orleans. But the state has since
lowered the rate to $14.68.
In addition to covering the
attendants’ wages, the charity
uses the reimbursement to pay
for workers’ compensation and
liability insurance, supervisors
to oversee the attendants, and
other program costs.
man part of me says, ‘How in
the world am I going to do that?
We can barely cover our costs
Some charities have experi-
mented with bonuses as a way
to increase employees’ take-
home pay without committing
to permanent wage increases.
In 2010, Cedar Sinai Park, a
charity in Portland, Ore., that
runs a nursing home and an as-sisted-living facility as well as
providing other services for older people, didn’t feel confident
enough in the economy to provide annual raises.
Instead, the nonprofit said
that if it met its quarterly financial goals, all employees would
receive a 2-percent bonus.
“It wasn’t huge,” says David
Fuks, chief executive of Cedar
Sinai Park. “But the reality is if
that 2-percent bonus for a low-
wage worker turns into an ex-
tra $300 or $400 at the end of a
quarter, that’s a very nice thing
to have happen.”
Nonprofits have long strug-
gled to recruit and retain low-
wage employees, but during the
recession that pressure eased.
In an uncertain economy, work-
ers were reluctant to leave their
Disruption for Clients
Out of the 500 people who
work for Stone Belt, roughly 420
are hourly workers; most provide assistance to people with
Wages range from $8 to $12
an hour. In 2010, the organization’s turnover rate was about
24 percent, but it is now approaching 30 percent. The number of applications for open positions has also declined.
Higher turnover translates
into additional hiring and training costs for the charity and disruption for clients, says Leslie
Green, Stone Belt’s chief executive.
“One of the major indications
of quality services for the client
is the relationship with that di-rect-support person, someone
who knows them well, who understands their likes and dislikes and their skills and abilities,” she says.
“When a person turns over,
that new individual has to come
in and start over again estab-
lishing that relationship with
Five years ago, Goodwill In-
dustries of the Chesapeake,
which often hires people who
graduate from its job-train-
ing programs, started a drive
to make the nonprofit a better
place to work—and try to cut a
70 percent turnover rate.
Social-Service Groups Urged to Link Workers
With Government Safety-Net Programs
THE National Human Ser- vices Assembly has an ambitious goal. The umbrella group for social-service
nonprofits wants charities to
screen whether their low-wage
workers qualify for government
safety-net programs, such as
food stamps or child-care sub-sidies, and help them apply for
The assembly’s new Bridging
the Gap program, which features an online system to help
screen employees, has received
nearly $1-million from the Ford
The effort is just getting
started with affiliates of Cath-
olic Charities USA, Goodwill
Industries International, and
United Neighborhood Centers of
America testing the approach in
four cities. So far 220 employees
have requested screenings and
have qualified for $100,000 in
ing conditions for nursing assistants, home health aides, and
personal-care attendants, says
she has mixed feelings about
On the one hand, her group’s
research has found that 47 percent of direct-care workers live
in households that receive one
or more government benefits,
and Ms. Seavey says she’s seen
the difference benefits can make
for employees. But she worries
that those benefits do nothing
“Our goal is
to figure out how
to make people
comfortable. This is
not about blame.”
ADVICE FROM THE EXPERTS
Keep a Nonprofit’s Goals in Mind
When Picking Online Content to Share
Following are excerpts from
a live online discussion The
Chronicle held last week to help
nonprofits learn how to better
use social networks to spread
information about their missions. Laura Quinn, executive
director of Idealware, a non-profit that helps charities figure out what computer software
best fits their needs, and
Annaliese Hoehling, publications director at the Nonprofit
Technology Network, answered
questions from readers. A full
transcript is available at
and highlighting useful ones
for your readers.
Ms. Hoehling: Unlike creating new content, it’s something
that can happen in smaller
blocks of time. It’s also something that can happen while
you’re doing other things.
That’s why figuring out your
aggregation tools is important.
Want to grab articles to an
RSS reader or pictures to Pinterest? You can do that at any
time while you’re working.
On what it means to aggre-
gate, or curate, content:
Ms. Quinn: Curating means
following news, blogs, or other
resources in your topic area
On how to share materials
on different networks:
Ms. Quinn: For each
“stream,” who is the target au-
dience? You can then aggre-
gate potential content into a
single place and divvy up po-
tential resources to the right
channels. At Idealware, we use
a tool called Instapaper to al-
low staff members to flag good
resources. One person on our
team then goes through to de-
cide what makes sense for our
Twitter feed, Facebook, and ul-
timately, our e-mail newsletter.
On how much time to spend
gathering articles and oth-
On whether nonprofits
should try Pinterest:
Ms. Quinn: It’s important
to start with your goals. Do
you have goals that can be
better met through Pinterest
than other places? If nothing is
jumping out at you, I’d wait to
let things settle and see what
other nonprofits do with it.
Goodwill Industries of the
Chesapeake, one of the charities
participating in the test, often
hires people from its job-train-ing programs, but the pay is
low. For instance, starting wages for a sales associate in one of
the nonprofit’s thrift stores is
$8.52 an hour.
At those wages, employees
need government benefits, says
Lisa Rusyniak, chief executive
of Goodwill Industries of the
Chesapeake: “They really need
more assistance in becoming in-
dependent and self-sufficient.”
The tone of outreach materi-
als is positive and hopeful, says
Ms. Key. “Our goal is to figure
out how to make people com-
fortable,” she says. “This is not
about blame, about whose fault
it is. It’s about helping people to
move toward really thriving.”
But not everyone is sold on
the Bridging the Gap approach.
Dorie Seavey, director of pol-
icy research at the Paraprofes-
sional Healthcare Institute,
which advocates for better work-
to solve the underlying cause of
workers’ struggles: low wages.