Those who have served non-profit boards of directors know quite well what I’m talking about. People who on their regular jobs would never think of doing something unprofessional will not hesitate to wield their power rashly from an unpaid management post. A short list of sample misbehaviors includes:
• Demanding special treatment for relatives or friends,
• Second-guessing vastly experienced subordinates,
• Playing with the careers of regular employees.
Those abuses seem less typical in corporations and businesses than they are in organizations run by volunteers. Of course, my view could be jaundiced by the unique features of those I’ve closely encountered, but conversations with others even more experienced in the ways of non-profits have consistently confirmed these observations. Maybe the lack of compensation gives rise to irresistible temptations to take your pleasure in other ways. Perhaps workers need scorecards to keep track of the right and wrong of their actions. Could it be that a salary tied to a clear quid pro quo like a job description or employment contract is necessary to supply a governor on the engine of motivation that might otherwise spin out of control?
Is there something inherently healthy in the for-profit mode of operation? Does a toxic seed grow when you don’t get paid for your efforts? Researchers have identified behavioral differences in Social versus Commercial environments. Standards and expectations are not the same in a social setting where people act without pay as a commercial motive. Why is it that the lack of perceived “compensation” seems to inspire irrational behavior? Well, maybe not irrational but at least irregular, when viewed thru the prism of conventional professional standards. After all, “compensation” is literally that… something that satisfies you, received in exchange for your service.
How, then, do you assure balance in the value proposition when work is done without pay? I fear that, in the absence of formal rewards, volunteers create their own informal compensation programs to supply whatever consequences they find most satisfying to their personal motivations. After all, everyone knows that anything of value not controlled by the organization will be controlled by its inmates workers, regardless of their volunteer or paid status. That compensation may be in the form of money, the intrinsic satisfaction of creative or socially beneficial activities, the personal pride that results from public recognition before your peers, or the pleasure taken from the exercise of authority over others; but every contributor exerts themselves for some reason.
The rewards taken by the unpaid people who rule over tax-exempt non-profits tend to be less visible than what shows up in a payroll record. And that is not always a good thing.
What do you think?
Creative Commons image "Coins in High Saturation" by MoneyBlogNewz
E. James (Jim) Brennan is Senior Associate of ERI Economic Research Institute, the premier publisher of interactive pay and living-cost surveys. Semi-retired after over 40 years in HR corporate and consulting roles throughout the U.S. and Canada, he’s pretty much been there done that (articles, books, speeches, seminars, radio/TV, advisory posts, in-trial expert witness stuff, etc.), and will express his opinion on almost anything.