Do you ever wish you had a more stable nonprofit job? With better wages? Better benefits and more vacation time? But… what can you do, right?

Well, what if there WERE something you could do to develop more collective power at work?

In Canada, the Ontario Nonprofit network is throwing down for nonprofit workers, and making traction, legislatively, with their initiative called “Decent Work.

What is Decent Work for nonprofit workers?

-> Employment opportunities
-> Fair income
-> Health and retirement benefits
-> Stable employment
-> Opportunities for development and advancement
-> Equality and rights at work
-> Culture and leadership

Read more about what the Ontario Nonprofit Network is doing with Decent Work here.

Why is a nonprofit person getting underpaid a problem? (Don’t You Believe In the Mission, You Grasping, Capitalist Jerk?)

1. Because nonprofit workers get paid the least of any sector. In the US, 1 in 10 people is a nonprofit worker. If we were a single industry, we would be one of the nation’s largest. So even though we think income inequality is a terrible thing, we are basically perpetuating it every single day.

2. We can’t say we want to create a better world and fulfill our missions when people are leaving every 6 months. Why? Because that means we’re actually not helping people or fulfilling our missions very well when there is constant turnover. Who really suffers? The people or animals we serve.

3. Do we care about using donor money effectively or not? Your nonprofit loses $200K each time a fundraiser leaves. Cygnet Research has done this research to back this data up and it’s astounding that we are not trying to prevent this more actively.


In the next year, we’re going to be talking a lot more here about how YOU can get decent work at your nonprofit, whether you’re an executive director or a development associate.

A few months ago I read this book called 1919 and The Big Money, written by Dos Passos, a contemporary of Hemingway and e.e. cummings, who talked about the first time the labor unions came around in the US, and how hard we had to fight to get basic things like a higher wage, or the weekend, or an 8 hour work day. This is not a traditional dry history book, it’s got stories interwoven with vignettes of historical figures, and it really succeeds in making the labor struggle real and visceral.

Recently I went to a Democratic Socialists of America meeting where they were teaching us all how to start the union conversation.

I TOOK NOTES FOR YOU (You’re welcome)

Why would you want a Nonprofit Union?

–> Well, maybe you want a longer vacation allowance.
–> Maybe you want to be allowed to work from home one day per week.
–> Maybe you want better healthcare benefits.
–> Maybe you want to stop doing 4 people’s jobs and just do one person’s job.
–> Maybe you want a higher wage, even a cost of living wage increase.

If you ever feel overworked, underpaid and like you have nowhere to turn because your fellow nonprofit workers are all in the same boat, then a union might help you.

Who could potentially be your union at your workplace?

WHICH union would represent you? According to the Democratic Socialists, here are 3 options for you.

Can you get fired for trying to start a union?

NO. You can’t. Because there are protections for people who try to start unions at their workplaces. The law prohibits people from being fired for trying to have an organizing conversation.

Here’s 7 Steps for the union conversation.

Practice this with a friend before trying it out on someone at work.

1. Discover the issues. You might start out by asking someone, how is your day going? And see what is bugging them. Maybe they wish they had more time to spend with their kids. Maybe they are just tired and sick and not sure how they are going to afford groceries this month.


2. Agitate. This is where you respond to someone’s complaint or sadness, and ask follow up questions like, “How does that make you feel?” or “how are you coping?” or “Is that okay with you?” or “How long has that been going on?”


3. Lay the blame. Talk with this person about who is responsible. But ask open ended questions, like “Do you think this problem is going to correct itself?” or “Why do you think we’re having this problem?” or “Who’s in a position to fix this? What would they have to do?”


4. Make a plan to win. Here’s where you can offer some hope. You can say, “You know what, a lot of us have this exact same problem. We’d like a higher wage, or to work from home one day a week, or to get more paid time off to be with our aging parents or young children. What if we all signed this petition, and marched into the boss’s office to deliver it?”


5. Get a commitment. Ask your co-worker, “Will you sign this petition and come with us to deliver it on Thursday?”

6. Inoculate and re-commit.
What does this mean? You need to prepare the person for the fact that they might get pushback from the boss, perhaps having threatening language or confrontations. Make sure they know this, maybe even practice it with them how the conversation might go, and then get a sense from them that they still want to do this.


7. Set up a follow up plan. 90% of Organizing is follow up! You are not just working on this one issue. You are trying to make standing up, in an organized way, a normal and natural part of workplace life.


To read the entire 5 page PDF document on how to talk about organizing at your workplace, just go here at LaborNotes.org/secrets.

To get way more in depth with the organizing conversation, just GO HERE.

DO YOU have a nonprofit union?

How is it working out, if you do? I’d love to hear your organizing conversation, what you have right now, or if you want a union, in the comments!