The social service network of any community is a vital part of ensuring the resiliency and safety of the residents. Services can include anything from counseling to housing support, senior services to infant care, and education to emergency services. Anyone can have an incident in their lives that can send them into a tailspin.
We all need help at some point.
None of these services are possible without the individuals who provide them. The people who work for social service agencies are highly skilled in their areas of expertise from working with children to seniors and everything in between. The most vulnerable people in our community depend upon these essential workers who, even through the pandemic, wildfires, heat domes, and blizzards, step up and show up.
There are still other staff who may not work directly with clients, but ensure that services are accomplished by doing other needed behind the scenes work such as doing payroll and insurance, IT and infrastructure, staff training and recruitment, and so on.
And yet their pay is often less than that offered at fast food restaurants or far less than those doing the same work at a “for profit” company.
Why? The answer is twofold.
Many of the services provided by nonprofits are paid through grants that come from federal, state, or local governments. Most of those grants are multi-year contracts that do not increase from year to year, with no room for wage growth or inflation. In ShelterCare’s case, they don’t take increasing rents into account, which is a huge line item in our budget. After a few years of this, social service staff get left behind.
To be clear, our local officials know and understand this situation, but their hands are tied when most local funds come through federal and state sources. This is an opportunity for all of us to advocate for appropriate wages for our social service staff, to our state and federal representatives.
The second reason nonprofit staff have such low pay in comparison to other types of businessess is culture and attitude. There’s the pervasive opinion that those who choose to provide care for others “knew what they were doing” and that they’d “never get rich.” No one is asking to get rich–they just want to pay their rent.
Nonprofit does NOT mean nonvalue. Imagine for just a moment if all of the services provided by all of the nonprofits in our community just disappeared overnight. No more ShelterCare, Red Cross, Mission, Boys and Girls Clubs, and so on. What would the quality of life be like? If you have concerns now about your neighborhood, what would you think if there were no CAHOOTS or St. Vincent de Paul?
The people who work for all of these agencies need to be recognized for the valuable treasures they are. I am in awe every time I see one of my team guide a program participant into getting their first apartment.
How can you help? As I mentioned before, advocate for appropriate, competitive wages for social service workers. Too many leave this high-stress field because they can’t afford to do the work they love. You can also donate to your favorite organization (I hope it’s ShelterCare) and avoid designating your gift so that we can put it into staffing costs.
Without our staff, there wouldn’t be programs to provide!