In a tight job market, nonprofits lose out

“Although you never know when your phone will ring, I had fun doing it [Tides]. But it got to a point – I’m single, I live on my own – I just couldn’t afford to stay. Parks, 32, said my salary didn’t cover my rent. “If I could handle the pressures of income with the pressures of a job, I would still be there.”

Parks is one person among a flood of nonprofit human services workers who have recently made similar moves, providers say.

in Consistently strong job marketThese organizations struggle to offer competitive salaries and benefits, and often lose employees to better paying jobs elsewhere. Nonprofit employment was in the midst of a slow recovery at the end of 2021, the last time reliable data was available. And little has changed since then: Positions that do hands-on work—distributing produce at food banks, supporting victims of domestic violence, running homeless shelters, for example—have fallen vacant across New England. Almost half of the nonprofit organizations in Vermont And Rhode Island Report the presence of vacancies for employees in recent months every time. (Data for Massachusetts was not available.)

“Employees at nonprofits are typically perpetually willing bunny types, eternal optimists, and we’re losing them to Amazon and Target,” said David L. Thompson, vice president of public policy at the National Council of Nonprofits. “It keeps me up at night.”

Staffing issues are coming to a head at a precarious moment for nonprofits, Thompson said, amid fears of a recession and in the midst of another coronavirus winter. Demand for social services has continued in the era of the pandemic, which means that some nonprofits have opened new facilities or expanded existing programs in order to shrinking population through a troubled economy.

For example, Boston’s food-aid charity Project Bread has more than doubled its staff since 2020, from 27 employees to 80 now. But that did not It was enough to keep up with demand as families struggle with expensive groceries and electric bills.

Ronald McDonald House Charities of New England cannot fill vacancies in the finance and fundraising departments; Food Bank of Greater Boston is seeking warehouse partners; The Boys and Girls Club is low on youth development workers and lifeguards; Quincy’s community action programs have had to cut some early childhood education classes because of a teacher shortage.

This should not It comes as a surprise,” said Christine Schlapp, QCAP’s Chief Operating Officer. Her organization can pay teachers about $19 an hour, and draws from the same pool of limited labor as nearby public school districts that offer higher wages. QCAP began helping its other employees apply for teaching certifications, so they could eventually take on roles themselves.

“Either way, we can’t compete with the schools,” Schlapp said.

Dave Karales put food in the freezer at Community Action Programs in Quincy, where he has worked for the past twelve years, on January 5, 2023. The organization has had to cut some early childhood education classes due to a teacher shortage.John Tolomaqui/Global Staff

Back at Tides, CEO Beth Lemmy Bixby handles 119 employees, 30 fewer than the organization needs. In addition to Parks, you lose people to Lowes and Starbucks, who pay better than you can. Right now, Tides is supplementing wages with a salary of $694 per month funded with American Rescue Plan money, but that will run out in June.

“It’s getting expensive to live in Rhode Island, or really, anywhere,” said Lemme-Bixby. “How can my staff survive?”

Lawmakers offered some support. In the November Economic Development Bill, then-Governor of Massachusetts Charlie Baker He allocated 225 million dollars For human services nonprofits to increase their hourly rates and benefits. Advocates within the sector have proposed a bill that would require the state to reimburse outsourced social service jobs at the rate they pay state employees for the same job.

“Otherwise, we’re fighting with the state for these people,” said Michael Weekes, president of the Providers Alliance for Massachusetts State Council.

Another approach, he said, could be to offer childcare stipends, since many of the nonprofit’s employees are mothers, who have been slower to return to the workforce since the start of the pandemic.

But as pandemic-era relief money from ARPA and the CARES Act dwindles, nonprofits are scraping couch cushions from their budgets to find funds for additional compensation and benefits. At the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Boston, most employees received increases of up to 15 percent in July, said Kelly Folger, vice president of human resources. The Food Bank of Greater Boston has put in place wide-ranging increases as well, offering $28 to $32 an hour for delivery drivers.

A line outside the pantry at Lazarus House Ministries in Lawrence in spring 2022. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Connor Schoen, executive director of the nonprofit homelessness prevention organization Breaktime, said the organization has implemented a range of measures to buck the long trend of underpaying nonprofit employees, using an influx of private donations. Now, no full-time employee is paid less than $50,000, and the organization pays all employees’ health and dental insurance. They’ve also raised tech salaries and gym memberships, and provided employees with T cards. On a case-by-case basis, Breaktime helps employees with Gas costs, parking and vehicle repairs.

May this kind of move pay off. In 2021, 60 percent of the employees at Project Bread — which screened thousands more families for food aid than two years prior — Operations manager Ben Flores said they considered looking for another job. When employees were surveyed in November, that number had dropped to 24 percent.

“It’s not like you snap your fingers and the problem is solved,” he said. “But this is progress.”

However, nonprofits understand that the exodus will have far-reaching consequences. People who left the field in search of better salaries may not return, while reports of low wages and burnout can discourage future students from pursuing a career in the sector. Fewer people are signing up to volunteer, compared to 2019. And while nonprofits have raised a bit more each within a month According to the so-called super donors, the number of donors in general has decreased year after year, according to a September report From the Independent, Not-for-Profit Sector Coalition.

Maya Baker quit her job in the communications department at Planned Parenthood in March to work on a state ballot campaign in March, for three times the salary. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

There’s more work to be done, said Maya Baker, a former communications employee at Planned Parenthood in Massachusetts, or workers like her will continue to leave nonprofits. In February, Baker left the organization to get a job working for a state pollster that paid nearly three times the $24 an hour she made at Planned Parenthood.

“I was worried I was going to feel like I was going to sell out by caring about how much money I made,” said Baker, a 25-year-old Allston resident who, after Election Day, moved to another progressive advocacy job. “But I realized that as much as I want to work in a mission-oriented field, what makes it possible for people to do well is to earn enough money to live on.”

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