Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Working for Charity

Working for Charity

Just like the premise for this blog ... begging for a job to beg for the organization ... the notion of "working for charity" is a two-way mirror. A general contractor friend of mine seemed surprised when I explained that I would not be willing to write grant proposals for his synagogue's programs with payment (a percentage, no less!) coming in when the grant was funded. I explained this is not speculative construction, where a builder will make an investment in a property, develop it at his / her own expense and then sell it for a profit.

Perhaps this is one of the easier ways to distinguish between working for a non-proft and a for-profit corporation. I've been explaining to a number of artists recently the reality that one can (not to mention, should) make a living (i.e. earn income) by being engaged by (or starting) a not-for-profit entity.

What is the nature of true profit anyway? Something "extra" is the byproduct of one's investment, perhaps. But how does one anticipate, much less value, the merit of an investment in compassion? Is it an hourly fee? "A little gelt at Chanukah ..."

The latter was the response to my serious question to a potential employer ... OK, it was United Jewish Appeal's national headquarters back in the late 1970s ... when I inquired in the interview process about the opportunity for a potential raise in salary. They didn't want to pay enough up front. Silly me ... I took the job and the "raise" was minuscule. When the distinguished gentleman said those words with his heavy Eastern European accent, I noticed a twinkle in his eye that practically pinched my cheek. My mind completed the sentence ... kindelach." (Yiddish for little child.)

Life for this Holy Beggar is very full, nonetheless. I've been turned down for many jobs after the second interview. I think it's an age thing ... stay tuned for the "mother of all blogs" about this.

In the meantime,

No matter what
Don't forget to ask for the money!

A tip of the Holy Beggar's Hat to the Harvard Business Review for the following article ...

"For a Charity or the Money? You Can't Work for Both"

May 18, 2009


Michelle Obama's beautiful and impassioned entreaty to U.C. Merced students to give back and change the world raises an issue that it is time for us all to confront. By what economic rules must they be constrained in their efforts? We give young people horrible mutually exclusive choices. We tell them that they can pursue their dreams of helping the world's neediest citizens or they can pursue their dreams for their own economic futures, but they cannot pursue both. We say to students who choose charity, You must watch your classmates who chose the for-profit sector pass you by on the economic highway — buy homes in better neighborhoods, send their kids to better schools, drive safer cars, take better care of their aging parents, indeed serve on the boards of and direct the very charities that employ you — but you, because you have chosen to help the indigent, you must sacrifice — you can have none of this power, none of this security.

Purists will cry that the psychic benefit of working for charity makes up for the low pay. But is there no psychic benefit working for Apple? For Google? For the pharmaceutical company that might discover a cure for cancer and pay you seven figures while you work on it? And what about the psychic liability of working for a nonprofit that, aside from a low salary, offers you inadequate resources to measure the best of your talents?

A few years ago Business Week did a survey of Harvard MBAs ten years out of business school, at an average age of 38. Their median annual compensation was $380,000. The average compensation for the CEO of a hunger charity in America at the same time was $84,000. We're not going to get many people with a $380,000 annual earning potential to make a $296,000 annual sacrifice to run a hunger charity. It's cheaper for them to donate $100,000 a year to the hunger charity, get a $50,000 tax savings, still be ahead by $246,000 a year, and have a lifetime of huge earning potential still awaiting them. They can realize their economic dreams and get the psychic benefit of making a difference, but the hungry lose their full-time talents forever. Do we really think it is of comfort to the mother whose child just died of starvation to know that at least no one was making any money in the failed effort to save her son?

Critics will say we don't need Harvard MBAs — the nonprofit sector already has the best and brightest. Coca-Cola and Amgen beg to differ. And we cannot say on the one hand that corporations are greedy and all they care about are profits and on the other that they are gratuitously throwing profits down the toilet by paying Harvard MBAs across the board more than they are worth.

Yes, we can change the world. Yes, we must. But to do it we must right the injustice that allows a baseball player to be paid $5 million a year and have it celebrated in Forbes, but cries "foul!" when the guy running the charity trying to cure cancer makes $400,000. We must reject the dysfunction that calls a billionaire who spends all his time building his wealth a "philanthropist" but the three-hundred thousandaire who spends 100% of her time trying to end hunger a parasite for her six-figure salary. The notion that people should be compensated on the basis of the value they produce can no longer be denied to those who save lives while it is given freely to those who sell sodas and bounce basketballs.

It is time that our vision of change incorporated a vision of a whole person. We must allow those who dream a dream for others to dream a dream for themselves as well. The word charity, after all, comes from the Greek for "grace." It does not come from the word "deprivation." You and I, Mrs. Obama, were raised on this dysfunctional, compartmentalized notion of service. Let us resolve that ours will be the last generation abused by it, for the sake of our dreams of a better world and the very idea of dreams themselves.

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