For Women, Maybe NPOs Are About Passion, Not Money

Photo by Kheel Center, Cornell University
02.27.2012By

Photo by Kheel Center, Cornell University

Editors Note: March is Women’s History Month and in honor of the great things women have contributed to nonprofits and social good, we invited Margie Clayman (who has guest posted here before) to profile some of these admirable women. But before we get started, I asked Margie for her thoughts on why so many women have chosen to work in the nonprofit world, and here’s her thought-provoking answer.

The last time I was here in Razoo land, we talked about the fact that women actually seem more active in charitable causes than men are. Around that time, I was working on a post for my own blog about the still existing payment gap between men and women in the business world.

Even though women seem to be exceling in education, and even though women are more numerous in middle-management positions than men, very few women are in the CEO chair. There have been a lot of articles examining this phenomenon. Some indicate that women may leave the business world to pursue their own entrepreneurial dreams, as this article from Forbes does.

I wanted to see if there was a way to tie this payment gap to women’s propensity to be so giving. If women are making less than men, how is it that they are more charitable?

As I was researching this topic, I learned that the same payment gap exists in the world of NPOs. In fact, in some cases the gap is bigger than it is in the business world. This led me to a new question entirely. In the world of nonprofits, do women make less money than men because it’s not the money that motivates them?

Kicking Butt for Less Money

First, let’s talk cold hard facts. I found a study from the Montana Non-Profit Association that was presented in November of 2011. I found the following points particularly interesting.

  • — According to a 2009 study, 78% of NPO employees were women
  • — Women run 57% of NPOs with budgets under $1 million
  • — Women only run 16% of NPOs with budgets of $50 million
  • — Women represent 48% of the leadership but only earn 29% of the compensation
  • — In NPOs with budgets between $250,000-400,000, women earn 86% of what men earn, but in NPOs with budgets of $50 million or more women are only at 75% of men’s earnings

These are just a few of the stats from the presentation. I encourage you to read the whole thing. It’s more of the same.

More Questions

For me this just raises more questions. Why are women in charge of more than half of the smaller NPOs out there? Are these entrepreneurial efforts that the women started themselves? Don’t these smaller NPOs ever grow into super big ones with women still at the helm? Is a woman working for an NPO societally acceptable while a woman running an NPO hedging bets against what society is comfortable with? And most importantly, WHY are women earning less in this sector, just like they are in the business world? In fact, in some comparisons from that Montana presentation the gender gap is worse in the NPO world than it is in the business world.

Seems kind of backwards, doesn’t it?

Does it even matter?

I have been privileged to make the acquaintance of quite a few extraordinary women who work for or run NPOs, and you know what? The money seems to be a low priority for them across the board. Fundraising for their NPO is certainly a concern, but a personal paycheck is something you seldom hear these women talk about. They do what they do because passion doesn’t give them a choice. They do it because they really believe in what they are doing. They don’t expect a thank you, not to mention a raise.

Now the question becomes a bit different. Are we saying that in the NPO world men prioritize money more than women do? Are we saying men are less driven by passion and more driven by a paycheck?

What do you think?

What’s your thought on the wages gap that exists in the NPO world? Are women paid less because money is not their primary concern?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

  • Great post. My experience is the same. Women in nonprofit are not motivated by their own personal income. I think we can all agree that what we focus increases. If how much money we made was important, then we would be making as much money as men. nnBut instead of lamenting this fact, I say good for us! Good for us for not getting trapped by defining our success by our income. Good for us for being lights illuminating another path to follow.nnI know studies show that after a certain amount of income, money does not lead to greater happiness, so maybe studies would show that these women report greater levels of happiness, fulfillment, and joy. If so, then how much less we make then men isn’t the point. Maybe the point is how much more happiness women experience. Poor men! What a sad substitute more money is for life satisfaction.nnu00a0

    • Thanks Sharon! I agree, kudos to the women (and men) who are sacrificing high salaries to bring some good into our communities. Hopefully we can honor those women throughout this month.

    • Thanks Sharon! I see your point, but I wonder if women are putting themselves in a position of being taken advantage of. We can’t have it both ways, right? We can’t complain that based on wages we are treated unequally but then also say, “Aw shux, the money doesn’t matter.” I wonder if this confusion is part of our problem.