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Jeff Norman

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Ill Will for Goodwill

Posted: 11/06/2013 1:33 pm

Change.org's feel-good petition calling for Goodwill Industries to pay its disabled workers the minimum wage, might do more harm than good if it causes donations to drop and services or staff to be cut as a result. Granted, if Goodwill's motivation is to make money off the backs of disabled but reasonably productive employees, it's committing a moral offense. But if its motivation is to give people who aren't capable of normal productivity a sense of belonging (and maybe even train them to become employable), it should be praised rather than condemned. Goodwill's accusers claim the organization is relying on cheap labor to generate revenue for the organization, but they offer no information about any net gain Goodwill might be deriving from its "exploitation" of disabled workers. Without such details, there's no apparent reason to conclude the arrangement is lopsided in Goodwill's favor.

Generally, nobody seems to think anything is wrong with doing volunteer work for a nonprofit. Would it satisfy critics, then, if Goodwill were to pay nothing rather than a small stipend? For Goodwill to give relatively unproductive people the same amount it gives (or could give) to more productive people, would not necessarily be a bad thing. But why is it expected?

That Goodwill reportedly pays its CEOs $30 million annually, is a red herring. Like any enterprise, Goodwill must compete against others for the services of talented executives. Why assume those executives would accept a salary reduction, or that they are dispensable employees? Whining about how much they earn is pointless. One who wants to fairly assess the value of a nonprofit leader must consider everything the organization and population it serves gets out of the deal. The amount of compensation received by disabled workers is hardly relevant to that evaluation.

When it comes to charities, many people, as author Dan Pallotta puts it, "confuse morality with frugality." It's not in the best interests of needy people to insist they be served by only low-paid workers or volunteers. Nonetheless, nonprofit organizations such as Goodwill are portrayed as unethical for paying competitive salaries. That double standard tends to discourage the best and brightest from running charities, which is a tad more consequential than the self-esteem of Change.org petitioners. Now that those rabble-rousers have imbued themselves with pride, they're not likely to consider the possibility they erred. The rest of us, however, might exercise a little restraint before aiding and abetting their knee-jerk assault.

This post was originally published at The Norman Report.

 

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