Important Notice:
This site has moved to AskAManager.org, please update your bookmarks. If you were looking for a specific post, you can use the site search option, archives, or categories at the new domain to find it. Thank you!

Friday, October 22, 2010

should you work for free?

Should you work for free?  I want to know what you think.

But wait, it's not that simple. Here are six separate scenarios. Would you work for free in any of these situations? Why or why not?

1. Doing some work for free, for a limited time period, in order to get experience in a field you want to move into (and in which you currently have no applicable experience).

2. Lending your skills as a volunteer to a nonprofit organization that does good work on a cause you care about. This nonprofit has very limited financial resources and its staff works for low salaries.

3. Lending your skills as a volunteer to a nonprofit organization that does good work on a cause you care about. This nonprofit is well-funded and its (talented and in-demand) executive director earns six figures, but the organization uses volunteers in order to put more funds toward its program work.

4. Doing regular work for free for an organization that will look prestigious on your resume. The work is demanding but people are impressed when they learn you're associated with them.

5. The same prestigious work as in #4, but now you've already been doing it for a year or two. Have you derived all the benefit you need/want from it, or do you continue?

6. Offering your services for free for a limited time to prove yourself to an employer or client you really want to work for. 

Have at it in the comments! I'm very interested in hearing what people think.

55 comments:

PB said...

I think this could be answered rather easily, if you get value out of what you are doing then it's worth it to you. Value can come in other forms besides money. All of these scenarios describe something positive for the employee, whether that's needed experience, prestige or just helping out a cause you believe in. These are all benefits received from your services and it's an individual decision whether or not they are worth your time. But I'd hardly describe these as working for free.

Wilton Businessman said...

1, 2, & 3. Sure, I'd do work on a after hours/moonlighting type situation if my employer approves.

4. eh, probably not, I've got enough stress in my life.

5. no

6. No Way.

HR Minion said...

1. Yes if this is an internship type of situation for a temporary period of time.
2. Yes
3. Yes
4. No
5. Hell No
6. No, hiring is a risk for both sides, why should you sell your skills short like that?

Now, I'm sure there are tons of exceptions that people can throw out there but work isn't a hobby, you do it to pay bills. And your skills are worth something.

Anonymous said...

With the exception of 2), I can't justify working for free. I work because I need the income and I think you can still get the experience you wanted on your resume by having a paid job, somehow.
Even if I were unemployed, I still wouldn't work for free, because it means I'll have to spend money out of pocket for transportation, lunch, etc. And if that 'job' gives me problem/stress, I'd get really pi**d since not only they don't pay me, but they give me problem!

Sophie said...

I would and do work for free (blogging for HuffPo, for example) for two reasons:

It forwards my larger career objectives.

It gives me an opportunity to do something particularly satisfying or personally important to me that is not available to me in my paid work.

Anne said...

1. Doing some work for free, for a limited time period, in order to get experience in a field you want to move into (and in which you currently have no applicable experience). Only if it were part of a formal program and I would be leaving with an excellent reference and marketable skills. The hours would have to be flexible around any work I would actually be paid for also.


2. Lending your skills as a volunteer to a nonprofit organization that does good work on a cause you care about. This nonprofit has very limited financial resources and its staff works for low salaries. Yes, as long as I felt appreciated and could work on my own schedule and pace.


3. Lending your skills as a volunteer to a nonprofit organization that does good work on a cause you care about. This nonprofit is well-funded and its (talented and in-demand) executive director earns six figures, but the organization uses volunteers in order to put more funds toward its program work. Probably not, but maybe if I was really passionate about the cause. I don't think you should rely on volunteers so you can pay executives more.

4. Doing regular work for free for an organization that will look prestigious on your resume. The work is demanding but people are impressed when they learn you're associated with them.
No.

5. The same prestigious work as in #4, but now you've already been doing it for a year or two. Have you derived all the benefit you need/want from it, or do you continue?
N/A

6. Offering your services for free for a limited time to prove yourself to an employer or client you really want to work for.

No, sorry. I have references and if they aren't good enough, then you will just have to take a chance on me. I need to work to survive. I can't give my work away. I wouldn't want to work for someone who couldn't understand this or who thought my job is a "hobby." I think this is an unprofessional thing to ask of someone.

Anonymous said...

I'd love to know who are all these readers of AAM who make so much money - or are married to someone who does - that is is even an option. Do none of you pay rent, pay mortgages, or eat? Or are you all trust fund babies still living off mom and dad?

Anonymous said...

Nope, if I don't place value on my time and work why will you?

This comes up ALL the time in the hobbyist-turning-pro photog arena. People, generally, perceive value based on price. Now TRUE charity volunteer work is a different story, but if you're working for free in the hopes of it turning into a paying job - no way.

And, as previous Anon said...some of us have bills to pay.

Dave C said...

Of course it depends on who you are and how much you have to gain. If I were just breaking into a field, I'd be more likely to do so.

But the more interesting question might be, can these organizations get away with having you work for free? I'm no expert on labor law, but I believe that there are only certain circumstances where they are legally allowed to have people work without compensation.

So my cynical answer would be, absolutely! work for free, extract the value from the situation, then get a really good lawyer and sue them for the wages you should have been earning.

Ask a Manager said...

PB, I love your point about "hardly describing these as working for free." You're right, value can come in more forms than money.

Anne, on the well-paid nonprofit executive, something to factor in is that nonprofits are more effective if they have top talent running them -- and most top talent wants to be paid fairly well.

Anonymous 3:50, I'm assuming that in most of these cases, this is stuff people are doing on the side, in addition to their regular job (or while job searching) -- but not in place of a paid job.

Dave C., you'll find a post on the legality of all this here: http://www.askamanager.org/2010/09/should-i-work-for-free-to-get.html (Basically, nonprofits are allowed to do it.)

Becky said...

1. Doing some work for free, for a limited time period, in order to get experience in a field you want to move into (and in which you currently have no applicable experience). Probably, as long as I could still work a job to pay the bills.


2. Lending your skills as volunteer to a nonprofit organization that does good work on a cause you care about. This nonprofit has very limited financial resources and its staff works for low salaries. Definitely.


3. Lending your skills as volunteer to a nonprofit organization that does good work on a cause you care about. This nonprofit has is well-funded and its (talented and in-demand) executive director earns six figures, but the organization uses volunteers in order to put more funds toward its program work. Maybe, if I really cared about the organization/cause, and I didn't need the money.


4. Doing regular work for free for an organization that will look prestigious on your resume. The work is demanding but people are impressed when they learn you're associated with them. Probably not, unless it was a very small amount of work and I knew there was some other intangible benefit (they were going to refer me to a strong connection they have at a place I want to work if I did a good job).


5. The same prestigious work as in #4, but now you've already been doing it for a year or two. Have you derived all the benefit you need/want from it, or do you continue? No way.


6. Offering your services for free for a limited time to prove yourself to an employer or client you really want to work for. I'm pretty sure this is illegal (at least in MN, where I live. And I wouldn't do it anyway. As previous posters have said, a job offer is a risk on both sides.

I think my answers to these questions would change a lot if I was in a better place financially. Right now I can't afford to work for free. If I could (at least part time) I might feel differently. Maybe.

Becky said...

I think there was some confusion about #6 because in the earlier questions you specified it was a non-profit that you were working for. It was your earlier post I was thinking of when I said I didn't think it was legal. Obviously, if it is a non-profit that is incorrect.

Ask a Manager said...

Yeah, in #6 I wasn't assuming non-profit or for-profit. If it's for-profit, it would indeed be illegal (but also quite common)!

Anonymous said...

We recently hired someone whose only real qualification was exactly the sort of work you mention in #4. We hired the AA degree over the recent college grad with no experience.

GeekChic said...

#1: I have done this and treated it as a paying job. It helped me get paying jobs in the future.

#2: I have also done this and continue to do so in addition to paid work.

#3: It would depend on the size of the organization. A large non-profit can warrant paying top salaries for executives and some specialized staff. A smaller one - not so much.

#4-6: No.

To anonymous at 3:50 pm: not a "trust fund baby still living off mom and dad" just someone who believes in charity even when times are hard. You should try it - you might be less bitter...

JC said...

#1) Yes. I would be able to see if this is was an area I truly wanted to become involved with, and it would give me some good skills to work with. It would also be a good networking opportunity when the work was over.

#2 and #3) It depends on what type of work it would be (also, what the organization gets paid or doesn't get paid doesn't matter to me) I guess it would depend on if the cause was something I wanted to make a career goal out of. I used to volunteer at the Red Cross, because it was something I supported, but I wouldn't do it again at this point because it is not my career interest. I would much rather volunteer at a women's shelter or directly with vulnerable populations as that is my career path now.

4) Yes! Especially if it was, again, related to my career goals. I would think that would be a great way to open new doors, build my skills, and network.

5) I would probably leave. If the work was volunteer and incredibly demanding, I would probably be burning out by a year or two. But I would have to see first if I could join that company as a temporary or permanent worker. Otherwise, I would quit and move onto something that pays at that point.

6) Yes! I would take that risk for sure.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to agree with PB, but add that the people at the organization better not be a-holes

JC said...

With #5 instead of "Otherwise, I would quit and move onto something that pays at that point" I actually meant to say "I would quit and move onto another volunteer opportunity" because I would (hopefully) already have a job that pays!

With any of these, I would definitely have another job backing me up. It would be my spare time that I would devote to "working for free" or volunteering. I have bills to pay you know! =) But volunteering has always been (for me) a great way to meet new people, do something you are passionate about, and build some experience.

Project Manager in Ireland said...

I work in the translation industry and it is very easy for freelancers to get ripped off or as is the case nowadays, be forced into accepting low-paid work if things are quiet.

A lot of newbie translators volunteer to translate websites or participate in crowdsourcing translation projects to get some experience.

Unfortunately, the quality usually isn't very good. (very easy to check those websites out, of course).
I would be very reluctant to give assignments to someone who only has volunteer translation experience, as I know no QA will have been done on their work on the client side and we'll have to spend extra hours reviewing their work. :-/
It very much depends on the person's skill mix and overall attitude to decide whether we are prepared to make a professional investment in them.

Project Manager in Ireland said...

part 2 of my rant ;-)

I couldn't afford to work for free. If I'm going to work, I want to see a decent paycheque at the end of the month :-)

If I were unemployed, I would consider volunteering for 1-2 days a week just for the sake of mental stimulation and getting out there, but if I'm not going to get paid for the work I do, don't expect me to hang around for more than a couple of weeks. Volunteer work isn't really an advantage in my industry, as outlined above.

I do have a problem with personnel earning huge salaries while other staff have to contend with low/no salaries and shoddy computers and office equipment.
I get that you need to offer an attractive salary to lure key executives, but that actually puts me off supporting certain charities here in Ireland because I question how committed that executive is to the cause.

Kara said...

I don't really care how committed the executive is in their heart, I just care that they do a great job for the organization. I've seen passionate people not do well, and people for who it's just a job do incredible things.

Also it's too bad to see people say they wouldn't volunteer just because it wouldn't help them in their jobs! Volunteering is about helping other people. If it can help you in your job, that's just a bonus :-)

Dave C said...

Alison,

The post was unclear that all of these scenarios applied to non-profit organizations. The fact that you explicitly called out "non-profit" in 2 of the 6 scenarios made me think the other ones could include for-profit organizations.

Ask a Manager said...

Yes, I did intend #6 to apply to any type of organization, not just nonprofits. Sorry for confusing anyone!

Allison said...

I'm actually doing #1 now. I'm writing for an online magazine that covers the industry in which I'm pursuing a career. While I definitely love to write, the main goal here is to expand my network as I'm looking. We'll see how my plan goes!

P.S. I am also freelancing with a few small companies, also in my industry, to pay the bills.

KT said...

This isn't a hypothetical for me; I put a variable number of hours per week, usually less than five but occasionally up to forty, as a volunteer musician for our local symphony orchestra. The instrumentalists are all well-paid on salary, but the choir is an adjunct volunteer organization. The executive director certainly does make over six figures, and I'm pretty sure the artistic director does too.

I do it because I love the work, because it's an unusual and prestigious opportunity, and because I love the people and the industry. Plus it helps keep my vocal chops in shape, and the networking does occasionally lead to professional musician work.

Anonymous said...

Guidestar is a great newsletter on non-profits. I usually don't go by the highest salary - but by the step down to the second highest. Sometimes a salary can seem out of touch, but if you weigh it against what they are bringing in, it is small potatoes! There are a few people in my field that, though a goodly sum, are paid far less than their worth.

Jennifer said...

I would and currently am volunteering regularly with a large non-profit. The cause is very dear to my heart and I feel the work I do is important, and the job I do is flexible, and if I wasn't doing it another volunteer would do it. I've done a smaller nonprofit before as well. None of that work was for my resume, but just because I believe in the cause. The only other work I have done for "free" were required internships/practicums for my degrees and certifications (education and counseling).

Henning Makholm said...

Regarding point 2 and specially 3: Do membership organizations count as "non-profit"? Especially if the organization has a paid staff, it is all the more important that some ordinary unpaid members volunteer to sit on boards, spend weekends to go to delegate meetings, and so forth, lest the professionals take over the strategic control of the organization rather than just the day-to-day running of it.

Is that "work"? It's certainly worklike enough that we have to beg and plead with the membership in order to get such positions of trust filled in the organizations I'm involved with.

Charles said...

"Work for free"

Sorry, that's a luxury for the leasure class - not me.

Now, volunteering for its own sake is something that many of us do - we just don't do it to get something back.

Anonymous said...

The only people who should work for free are retirees if they don't need the income and professionals who are "donating" their services for a worthy cause.

If someone wants to teach you something then they should become your mentor and provide you with guidance and advice - hence, that advice helps you find a paying gig.

Evil HR Lady said...

I wrote a weekly column for free for a for profit company for the prestige. I'm glad I did it, but I'm extra glad I quit.

For non-profit, I'd almost rather do work for one with a well paid executive because it's much more likely to be run better.

Besides, as someone who has seen lots of salaries in a big company, people in the low 6 figures on the east coast aren't "highly paid" compared to the rest of the company.

Anonymous said...

No. Not under any circumstances. People need money. They need to eat and drink on a regular basis.

I do not agree with free work of any kind, unless it is for charity outside of a paying job. If companies offer internships, they should create entry level roles and pay a proper living wage.

I despise the companies that do this, and hate the people who accept these roles as they endorse the practice of exploitation for free labour and make it acceptable.

Ask an Advisor said...

Wow, Anonymous 4:43, pretty strong language there... There is huge difference between the companies that willfully exploit free labor and the individuals (like me and others here, whom you claim to hate) that willingly volunteer for various reasons.

For me, volunteering and doing some pro bono work has paved the way for me to begin consulting as I job hunt. I'm lending my skills, not being exploited.

And for those of you who look down on those of us who choose to work for free, don't be so quick to assume that we're filthy rich and able to do so as a luxury. I simply choose to struggle a little longer doing something I enjoy that can help me toward my goal of fulfilling employment rather just a job to pay the bills.

Either way, if I were asked by an organization to work for free, I might give an answer like the ones oDesk suggests (http://www.odesk.com/blog/2010/10/sample-work-red-flags-responses/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=Newsletters&utm_content=852081524&utm_campaign=ContractorNewsletterOctober2010&utm_term=positivestrategies).

Anonymous said...

In response to Anon at 4.04 on the 22nd, I work for a large not-for-profit in the UK. We have roughly 10 times as many volunteers as paid staff: without the volunteers we probably couldn’t operate.
Most of the volunteers are giving something back, exploring interests, and other motivations besides employment, but there are a lot who use it to get skills and experience in the fields they want to work in. And it does work – people who volunteer with us do then get employed with us, or, when we don’t have openings, with organisations which have similar roles.

Rob said...

As others have pointed out before me all my answers assume that any work I do as a volunteer/ unpaid would be done around my paying job.

1. Absolutely. I don't look at this any differently than attending a class in order to get experience except in this case I don't have to pay money out of my own pocket to get trained or earn valuable experience. I think this is even better than classroom learning because it is in the "real world" doing the actual job.

2. Absolutely. Again this is assuming the non-profit in question is flexible enough to allow me to continue to work at my regular paying position. If I care enough about the work they do this is an easy answer for me.

3. Same answer as #2. The pay of the executive doesn't really matter to me as long as I think the non-profit benefits from the salary they pay the director. If they are paying an incompetent director 6 figures and not getting a corresponding payback then I probably wouldn't be there for very long.

4. I'm leaning towards no. I could see some limited cases where I may do this but again I need to pay my bills and I'm reading this as a "for profit" company (I may be wrong). If that is the case if I have the skills they need then I think they should pay me for those skills. Even if I'm doing this on the side I think a "for profit" company should pay for this work. I may consider doing it at a reduced rate in order to have the ability to use the prestigious experience on my resume.

5. No way I do it this long without getting paid.

6. Maybe if I'm starting out as a consultant or trying to get my own company off the ground and I can work around paying jobs. For the most part I think my answer to #4 applies here too.

Anonymous said...

1. Maybe. If it's of more benefit to me than the company as an educational experience. If they're getting value, they should be paying me.

2. Yes. Been there, done that. Would do it agani.

3. No. If there's money to pay six figures, there's money to pay the rest of the staff.

4. No.

5. Absolutely not.

6. That's what I do in interviews. I offer my time for free so we can both determine whether or not we can benefit each other. I will not work for free. That's called volunteering. See #2.

Shayna said...

Eh, I'd be game for 1, 2 and 4, though I have no idea what I'd do when it came to 5.

Anonymous said...

For #6, I think it depends an awful lot on how limited the time is. For example, I've been asked to teach a lesson for a period (about an hour) as part of a job interview for a teaching position. For one period out of a typical day, that strikes me as totally reasonable even if it is technically "working for free" because it gives me a chance to demonstrate my skills in a much more authentic setting than a job interview or teaching the same lesson to adults pretending to be students. (It probably takes me about 6 hours of work to do this because I plan the heck out of that lesson in advance to make sure it goes well.)

For an entire day? I'd ask to be paid as a sub, and be pretty hesitant to do it for free. For longer than a day? I wouldn't do it without some pretty extenuating circumstances involved. (Right now, I'd consider working out a deal to work for free in order to get the number of relevant hours to add a new subject area to my license, which requires teaching in that subject on a temporary license or in a student teaching program in my state, but that's a different thing since I'd be getting a substantial non-monetary benefit out of it.)

Debra Anderson said...

I have been unemployed since December 2008. Last year I volunteered as a grant writer for a small non-profit for nine months and then stopped in December 2009 to focus more urgently on my job search. I still have not found a job and just this month I have begun volunteering again after learning that this non-profit is in dire straits financially and hasn't received any new grants since I left. Bottom line, I am without an income whether I volunteer or not at the moment. Volunteering is a healthy choice for my mental health, sense of well-being, and self-esteem. I am committed to helping this non-profit while at the same time looking for work to address my own financial dire straits!

Depending on the circumstances, I can see myself volunteering in any of the proposed scenarios, including the ones that theoretically should be paid positions if I thought the odds were in favor of it leading to a job offer.

And to share some additional unsolicited information that involves me soliciting ;) the non-profit that I have returned to is Family Resource Center of North Texas at www.frcnt.org where you can make a donation online. If you've got any extra $$ that you can spare today, please help out! Any contribution, small, medium, or large will be put to good use! And thanks in advance to those who are moved to check out our website.

Erica from You Should Only Know said...

Okay, this is all assuming I'm either unemployed and looking for work, or done as a part-time thing while I'm already able to pay my bills with my full-time gig.

1. Absolutely. I really can't think of a better way to get that needed experience, and I could only see it benefiting me. AND I'd learn pretty damn quick if I hated that kind of work.

2. Of course. That's called "volunteering for a good cause." in my book.

3. Sure. The salaries don't really concern me. Good work still needs to get done, and these are the people who are doing it. If I am able to volunteer for free, great. And if it's something I'd like to be paid to do, I could apply for an actual job there.

4. Yup. I see it as one of those "paying your dues" things. I probably wouldn't do it for long - just enough for it to grow into something else, and to pay them back for the contacts/prestige by association.

5. Nope. What would be the benefit for me?

6. Very dicey. I've been struggling with this right now, actually. It depends on the kind of work you do and if they were looking for it, or if it's something you have to convince them that they needed in the first place. Sometimes a "win" can help bring in a lot of money, and sometimes it can devalue your work. Really case-by-case.

Anonymous said...

I have volunteered before in my field when I couldn't find a paying job. (I'm a new graduate trying to get more experience.) However, I've heard arguments that having a large amount of volunteers in a profession can cut down on the number of paid positions offered, especially if qualified professionals are willing to do the work for free just to get experience.

It seems like a Catch-22. Professionals new to the field need experience, and about the only way to get it is to volunteer, but the more of us that volunteer, the less paid positions there are. Of course, I'm in a field and an area that's already saturated with unemployed professionals, so this is probably a special circumstance.

Cheryl said...

I could care less about prestige on a resume, so 4 & 5 are no.

1 I've done before strictly as a volunteer as the field is one that thrives on people helping each other; kind of like a "pay it forward" gesture.

2 & 3 I'd jump at the chance to do as my heart is what engages me, not the money involved

6 no way I'd do it to prove myself to someone else. I might do it to prove to myself that I could, but once I was satisfied, something would have to change quick.

Rachel said...

1. Absolutely.

2. I think I feel a bit differently than most people in the comments (at least from what I've skimmed) - I'm happy to volunteer myself as a warm body to do anything outside the range of what I normally do for work. So yeah, I'll stuff envelopes, paint houses, pick up trash, but if you want me to write for you I'm charging you a consulting fee. :)

3. Same as above.

4. I have done this and would happily do it again.

5. I probably don't continue at this point.

6. It'd have to be a very prestigious client or I'd have to feel very good about how our interview and/or relationship had been proceeding up to that point. It's a pretty big gamble.

Interesting to read the responses here - they seem to run the gamut.

Anonymous said...

What about those who are exempt from overtime and are required to work late nights and weekends? Technically working for free, yet I don't see many people complaining...

Naama said...

I volunteered full-time for a year with Americorps, and never regretted it. Americorps pays a very very small stipend (works out to about $800 a month), plus some pretty limited benefits, but you can make it work, no trust fund required. It does help to have your own med insurance though, since theirs is pretty sad.
The payoff in terms of experience and emotional reward was HUGE. I volunteered in refugee resettlement and employment training just after graduating from college, and by the end of that time, I was rolling in job offers...and yes, this was just two months ago. (Of course, a lot of that can be chalked up to how religiously I read AAM's advice and followed it :) Now I'm a very happy career counselor, and I still volunteer part-time to add value to my life outside working hours.
No chance on earth I'd volunteer at a for-profit business. You can get enough valuable experience/transferrable skills and do more good in the world volunteering at a place that NEEDS your help without looking at places that don't need it and shouldn't even legally have it.

Anonymous said...

I used to do a lot of volunteering work, however, I quickly realized some of the paid employees used to have me do their work and I stop doing things for free such as volunteering and internships.
I will not recommend doing free work to new grads.

Anonymous said...

I currently have a pay-the-bills type job while I'm trying to change careers into web design. So, I have done #1 and built a few sites for people I know and friends-of-friends for "free" because, though I'm not getting paid money, I'm learning, improving my skills, acquiring references, and building a portfolio (which most paying jobs seem to want before they'll actually agree to pay me :P). I consider that a fair tradeoff.

Anonymous said...

Working nights and weekends for free if you're exempt isn't working for free. It's doing the job you're paid to do, which apparently sometimes requires nights and weekends.

Anonymous said...

I would do all but the last one. I have great references from all levels within organizations I've worked/volunteered for.

If you want me to prove myself...hire me and I will.

But also, my career began through volunteering and internships, so I value these and think they are worth the time investment.

Anonymous said...

This topic reminds me of a non-profit organization for Gifted children in Oakland who happens to interview me that turns out they want me to volunteer for months without paying me. I am not an intern or whatever i got the skills huh.then i found out some people work their they didn't receive salary and some people just quit their jobs because they are not stable.

lorrwill said...

What about to keep from getting laid off from the job that pays you the rest of the time?

Candace said...

I'm quite intrigued by those that said yes to the non-profit 2 situation and no on the npo 3. I've done both for the past year and my experience with the 3 was much more fruitful than 2. The major difference being that the large organization genuinely appreciates my contributions much more the the smaller one. They are also aware that I'm trying to get experience on my resume and therefore do what they can to give me some great projects to work on. I have felt taken advantage of and unappreciated by the smaller organization. Also, I feel the large npo will be better on my resume as it has recognition.

I would also be willing to work w/o pay for a short period of time at a for-profit company if the company was well known and highly regarded and I was able to gain skills/relationships/connections that would help me in my job search. It's called an internship. I'm in the midst of a career change and getting a paid position has proven to be very difficult right now. No, I am not wealthy and could really use the money, but having a brief unpaid stint that would put me on a better career path seems much better than taking anything I can get and no one has to know it's unpaid, right?

Overall it just depends on weighing out the immediate benefit (paycheck) vs. the long term (experience, references, etc). Obviously both combined would be much better!

Anonymous said...

re: ..."people in the low 6 figures on the east coast aren't "highly paid"..."

WHAT? Do you know what the average American makes? Do you know that people with 6-figure incomes are like .00001% of the population? I stick by my earlier comment about "trust fund babies"; the more I read this blog the more disgusted I am by this over-privileged "community". And thanks to Charles for using the great term "leisure class". Looks like we're the only ones who get it, huh?

Ask a Manager said...

Obviously low 6-figures is highly paid! I think the point she was making is that in some geographic regions, it's not a surprisingly high salary for a position running an organization, and someone considering working for a nonprofit shouldn't be turned off if the head executive is making that much, because it's in the lower end of what you'd need to offer to attract great candidates for that role. That's an entirely separate issue from whether that's a lot of money, which it of course is.

Anonymous said...

I currently work for a #3 organization. The executive director as well as the CFO make in the low six figures and all the VPs make in the high five figures. The rest of the staff makes below market average, even for a non-profit, for the area, some positions making 20% below market. The rationalization for the lower wages is that they put as much of the money back into the programs as possible, thereby reducing what can be paid to staff.

Ironically, all of the executives gave themselves five to fifteen thousand dollar raises this year (not including car allowances and other perks) while claiming that the weak economy and reduction in fundraising dollars is preventing them from increasing staff salaries, again, for the fifth year in a row.

I guess, don’t assume that just because an organization is a nonprofit it is being run ethically or equitably. Using volunteers to replace paid employees so more money can be put into helping the cause is one thing. Using volunteers to replace paid employees so more money can be given to the executives is something else. Volunteer if you believe in the cause, but be aware of the way the nonprofit you want to give your time and talent to is running the business. Your volunteering may have caused someone to lose their job, or be causing the paid employees to be earning less then they deserve.