Money Talks: Should Doing Good have more Impact on Your Wallets?
Raise your hands if you have heard the following phrase: “Doing Good While Doing Well.” Now raise your hands if you did not know that this refers to companies and investors. Yes, the money goes to them. Not to you. That is, not to most of you, who are likely neither a company nor have the money to play impact investor. If you care about such things as “doing well” (ah heck, let’s call it what it is: money), my ponder of the week may resonate.
Personally, and frankly, I cannot imagine why we would care about how much “good profits” those responsible/sustainable corporations make or why we would care that the (already wealthy) impact investors get a little extra cash in the bank, without first talking about making “good living” ourselves. Perhaps that explains my aversion to a phrase which smells like good PR but lacks personal significance that I can relate to by any measure.
A further thought. To review a perennial bone that I love to unearth occasionally (see previous post where I mentioned the issue of compensation), I continually try to tell myself that the following is not true: that the vast majority of “do-good” jobs that DIRECTLY affect the (social/environmental) bottom line, e.g., working for social enterprises and NGOs, do not seem to pay so well. We’re not even comparing to traditional for-profit jobs here. We just have to compare that to those do-good jobs that exist more to ENABLE other change-makers, e.g., foundations, institutions like World Bank, ADB, and consultancies. If you didn’t know, allow me to suggest this carefully: the latter make (a lot) more money than the former! Today’s question is not why there is a difference and whether that is appropriate or fair, or exactly what levels of positions we are talking about here (although both may be addressed by a future post). Today’s question may be simply about why do-good pay is (relatively) low and unattractive period – and whether this is okay.
Right there let me take cover behind a pillow to not get hit in the head when vivid differences of opinions flare up and people start throwing ill-shaped, dangerously heavy objects.
For some, like sympathetic readers to Dan Palotta’s book “Uncharitable” (which, to be fair, I have not actually read), this issue is so true and exasperating that they want to slap anyone who tries to disagree. They may be young disillusioned nonprofit workers. They may be disillusioned EX-nonprofit workers. They may be mid-career professionals rationalizing the financial argument for getting into social enterprises – and feeling privately guilty for even thinking about it. Or they may be MBAs or similar degree holders suspected by not few professional do-gooders for being overpaid anyway.
For others, like those who have spent most of their lives working in such do-good professions and have perhaps moved to a senior level with more comfortable wages, the mere suggestion of the compensation topic seems tired, passé, and besides the point. “Do good to do good,” is their mantra. No more, no less. If you want to talk money, go work for a bank, but leave the business of helping others to the truly selfless, those with the “heart at the right place”, they may argue. Hence, talking about making money (and why you are not getting more) is considered by this latter group as selfish, lacking authenticity or perhaps straight out arrogant.
So I’m rubbing my beardless chin and wonder who’s got the better argument. That is, if anyone cares about the argument to begin with, since few people except lawyers get paid (handsomely) for well-crafted arguments. Let’s say then that I not only care about the argument but also if anything can and should be changed about the status quo.
No matter how you look at it, some fundamental questions come to mind once you start talking earnestly about the issue of pay in the social enterprise and nonprofit sectors.
- How low is “low” really? $20,000 a year? $30,000? $50,000? Who dares publicly defining “low” without risking being lynched by a mob of (you guessed it) already lowly paid people? Who dares talking about this in the wake of post-economic meltdown where “low” is better than “no” pay?
- For those who dare (or having the gall) to talk about it, how much is “enough”? If you are one of them, you may then also cry out whether it is fair of others to ask you to think of such limits and “paycaps” when they won’t even do it for the vast majority of professionals working in the traditional corporate world?
- Then think about the definition of “doing well”. Does this term include or exclude the accumulation of respectable wealth? Is someone who seeks to “do well” just someone who only wants to make enough to sustain the family and pay the mortgage when they’re not busy saving the world? Or is that same person (shudder) actually hoping to have her cake and eat it: save the world and being able to upgrade to the Manhattan condo or going from Volkswagen to Audi long before retirement?
- Lastly, but certainly not least, comes the question of “ought”. Should you be entitled or in the right to ask (and try to answer) the question about pay in the first place? After all, we have for the longest time placed what I like to call a monetary do-good discount on anyone in the traditional charity professions under the assumption that “noble calling” cannot or must not presuppose any desire for material gain – that indeed, if your soul can feast on the good that you do everyday, your whole view of money will change anyway. Seen this way then, these two pursuits of happiness could be incompatible in their essence.
This, to conclude, brings me back to the point raised at the beginning. If it is okay and allegedly exciting for us to talk about corporations and investors to do good while doing well, why do we pay so awfully little attention to resolving our questions and disagreements around what makes for good, fair and sufficient pay to motivate even more career-minded do-gooders in our Good Generation to dedicating themselves full time to change the world before it ends?
Stay tuned as I’m figuring out how to make this into a more developed post eventually.
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