09/26/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Benefits of Working at a Nonprofit

If you work for a nonprofit, you more than likely would have said to friends: "The salary isn't the greatest, but the benefits are good." In 30 years of working with community based organizations, I would say that providing health coverage is part of a social contract that many nonprofit organizations have made with their staff. Increasingly over the last few years, more and more nonprofits have asked staff to share costs, and while we have no numbers yet, we hear frequently about nonprofits that fear they will have to eliminate health coverage as a benefit. Keep in mind, over 500,000 people work in nonprofits in New York. What happens to these individuals as workers, the largest private sector workforce in the city, and as participants in the health care system is a matter of public policy. It is not just a note in red ink on the margins of the health care legislation.

In a recent Colorado town meeting, President Obama took a question from a local small business person, and he assured her that "a tax credit" would be given to enable her to provide benefits to her staff and herself. Noting that tax credits would not necessarily provide any advantage to nonprofits, the Nonprofit Coordinating Committee in New York, in collaboration with the National Council on Nonprofits, presents a different option: "a payment credit that would potentially enable more than 70% of nonprofits to offer benefits, more affordable health insurance to, or reduce the (shared) costs" to their employees.

Our staffs pay a price for doing good. The average salary in the nonprofit sector in New York is about $40,000, despite what you may have read about six-figure salaries at large nonprofits. The hours are long. The work is demanding, and while there are nonmaterial rewards for doing good, there are not many financial ones -- pensions are rare, even matches to deferred income plans are not common. There isn't a lot of glory or name recognition involved, and since most nonprofits are small, upward mobility is a challenge. Even those who do move up in their organizations, find that their old jobs and responsibilities stick to them like barnacles.

The sophisticated and effective service delivery network that exists in New York City is the result of millions of dollars of investment by New York's philanthropists and government. Hundreds of New York's best leaders have spent hours in planning and piloting needed services. New York may have the strongest social network in the country. That did not happen by accident. We are city that cares about its citizens, and we have been purposeful about building a full scale social service delivery network. Mayor Bloomberg has recognized the importance of the nonprofit sector, by creating a city policy focused on strengthening and assisting nonprofits. The New York Community Trust has stepped up to invest in the network, giving a series of extraordinary grants to allow "lifeline" nonprofit services to continue. The Mayor and the New York Community Trust recognize that this is a time of great need. The unemployment rate in New York City is 9.6% with just about 100% "feeling the pressure." It's bad enough that revenues are down, but loss of health benefits for this hard working work force, is simply unthinkable. The Health Care reform package should include credits to "all small employers," not just small businesses.

There is great resilience in the nonprofit sector. People keep asking me if I can give any examples of how many organizations are going out of business. The truth is that the real story is how many organizations -- despite less funding, despite more demand for service -- are not even thinking of going out of business. You've got to love these guys, and they must have health insurance.