Worst Companies in the US: The Final Four

The Consumerist has released the results of its annual poll to find the Worst Company in America. This year the “Golden Poo” award goes to cable giant Comcast, which narrowly beat out GMO agriculture behemoth Monsanto for the title. Comcast also won the title back in 2010.

Protesting against Monsanto

Protest photo courtesy of SourceWatch.org and used under CC license 3.0

The Comcast victory will be of particular interest to Time Warner customers, since the two firms are hoping to merge in the near future. Read more about this problematic pairing on the HuffPost blog of Letitia James, NYC Public Advocate.

PETA uses this SeaWorld of Hurt logo for its website

Logo for PETA’s website SeaWorldofHurt.org

The other two corporations (or, “persons,” according to The Supreme Court) to make the Final Four are those beloved marine animal abusers at SeaWorld and everyone’s favorite wage-miser, Wal-Mart.

And you thought there was no justice in the universe!

What would you say is the single most important thing that affected the nonprofit sector in 2013?

2013 events

Ann Whitman, Director of Communications, The Dana Foundation
I am interested to see how the new IRS and Treasury rules on nonprofit political spending will affect voter registration efforts and funding of political activity.

Alex Gleason, Policy Associate, New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO
The election of the most progressive mayor and council in New York City history gives me immense hope that for the first time in 20 years municipal policy may actually put people before profits (or at least try.) More important, income inequality has been placed at the epicenter of popular political discourse.

Gloria Feldt, Co-founder and President, Take The Lead, Women’s leadership parity by 2025
As a women’s advocate, I default to the news in January of 2013 that the White House Project (tagline “Add women, change everything.”) had closed its doors. In recent years, I have been honored to speak at national meetings of numerous women’s groups, and have noticed their ranks trending fewer and older. The loss of groups whose missions have been rooted explicitly in social justice for women is troubling. My goal for 2014 is to be able to say that we have reversed the trend and are forging ahead.

Jason I. Osher, Chief Operating Officer
, Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS)
For sure it was the government shutdown. This breakdown in government demonstrated how squarely divided the country is and how the representation in Congress reflects this great divide in ideology, economic strategy, globalization, health care access, and other divisive issues.  It was a stalemate until one side blinked.  And the only ones who suffered were the American people.  This is why the work of nonprofits is so vitally important to the sustainability of our national infrastructure.  When government fails (which it often does in a variety of ways), national, state, and local organizations ramp up.

Eric Van, Internal Communications and Web Coordinator, MetroPlus Health Plan

If there was any single thing that affected influence, I would have to say the need to respond. Respond to disaster, to a heart-warming video or to a call for help.

Nicky Penttila, Web Editor, The Dana Foundation
The speed of social change. For example, Twitter’s recent change in its blocking policy and how it prompted activists and others to swarm the stream, many noting that the change would endanger people’s safety. Not hours after I started seeing it in my stream, Twitter had stepped back and said it would leave things as they were.

Eric Dubinsky, Dubinsky Consulting
Bitcoin is my choice for 2013’s biggest potential impact on the nonprofit sector. While we are only at the beginning stages of exploring this largely uncharted territory, this year will mark the start of what may have huge ramifications on the industry. Some NGO’s have begun to experiment with the unknown, yet exciting and promising, world of virtual currency. I believe this should be a topic of discussion in every development department that is heavily invested in social media and online fundraising.

What’s your choice for the biggest nonprofit issue/event in 2013? Please comment below.

Is the Cost of College Killing the Nonprofit Sector?

From recent, extensive media coverage, most people know that the cost of a college education is increasing. That’s an understatement when one looks at the actual numbers. According to the Institute for Higher Eduction Policy the cost of college has increased a whopping 500% since 1985. Compare that to the increase in medical costs over the same period — 286% — and our much-criticized health care system begins to look reasonable.
This is bad news for everyone, most especially for the nonprofit sector, which provides essential services that businesses and government can’t. There’s not much profit in helping the homeless or trying to save the polar bears, but somebody’s got to do it and that usually means nonprofit groups.

The staff who operate these nonprofits are entrusted to handle some difficult and sensitive tasks, jobs which often require not just an undergraduate education but advanced degrees and professional accreditation. Homeless shelters need counselors who have an MSW (master of social work), a degree that takes five years of college to acquire. Environmental groups need scientists who understand the complexities of ecosystems, food webs and a host of other processes, both natural and human. Even small, local organizations that run on volunteer power, such as soup kitchens and thrift shops, require a few paid staff to procure resources, organize volunteer work and ensure compliance with IRS and other regulatory standards.

Today, the average entry-level salary in the US nonprofit sector is $35,961. The average of all nonprofit salaries, from the least to highest paid employees, is not much higher at $49,000. Compare that to the average student loan debt of $35,200 for a four-year degree. Even the most idealistic graduate is going to think twice about taking a job whose annual compensation is just slightly more than her student loan debt.

Few people are clear about what’s to be done. Perhaps nonprofits could pay more, but higher salaries will bump up against the rules, both legal and ethical, of running a nonprofit, where the goal is to channel as much revenue as possible into mission-focused program work. Another option might be greater use of volunteers, but many will not have the time or the skill to take on major roles, such as legal counsel, IT manager or program expert. It’s unrealistic to think that nonprofits can forgo hiring college grads or rely entirely on volunteers to carry out their important work.

Some nonprofit groups cope with this challenge by offering non-monetary incentives as part of their compensation packages. Variable work hours, telecommuting, generous vacation and other perks can make the difference for prospective employees who need flexibility to meet family commitments or for those who want more control over their work environments. While these adaptations are creative and commendable, they won’t solve the core problem. Something has to give on the cost side of the college equation.