Wednesday, November 14 , 2018, 3:53 am | Fair 51º

 
 
 
 
Good for Santa Barbara

Passion and Sense of Mission — Rather Than Pay — Drive Nonprofit Careers

With lower compensation than private sector, nonprofit industry leaders say making a living can be a challenge for both employees and organizations

Rolf Geyling, president of the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission, believes that those who make a career of nonprofit work tend to be motivated by the meaning and purpose they find in it. “I really have a sense of mission in what I do as part of my employment, and that’s something that drives my career in the nonprofit world,” he says. Click to view larger
Rolf Geyling, president of the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission, believes that those who make a career of nonprofit work tend to be motivated by the meaning and purpose they find in it. “I really have a sense of mission in what I do as part of my employment, and that’s something that drives my career in the nonprofit world,” he says. (J.C. Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Barbara’s many nonprofits are tackling numerous community needs, from the environment to homelessness to education. But their efforts are made more difficult because of staff salaries.

Nonprofits often run tight budgets and can’t afford to divert much of their funds from the services they provide. Aside from leadership positions at large nonprofits, staff salaries are not competitive.

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The California Association of Nonprofits reported in 2014 that one-sixteenth of the state’s jobs are in the nonprofit sector. But only one-third of the California’s almost 75,000 nonprofits have paid staff.

More than 50,000 nonprofits are considered “grassroots or mostly volunteer” organizations. The report said volunteers outnumber paid staff in nonprofits of all sizes.

Santa Barbara County has the second-highest number of nonprofits per capita in California, said Cynder Sinclair, founder and CEO of Nonprofit Kinect, which provides leadership tools and resources to nonprofit leaders and governing boards.

Those who make a career of nonprofit work tend to be motivated by the meaning and purpose they find in it, said Rolf Geyling, president of the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission, a faith-based recovery and treatment organization for people caught in cycles of addiction, poverty, homelessness and crime.

“I really have a sense of mission in what I do as part of my employment, and that’s something that drives my career in the nonprofit world,” he said.

This passion of purpose, however, sometimes must be supplemented with other sources of income, Sinclair said.

“I’ve noticed that a lot of the people who do make it are those who have a spouse who works in the for-profit world,” she told Noozhawk. “I also know a lot of nonprofit execs who have more than one job — which is not easy, but they make it work.”

George Machado, a resident in the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission’s Residential Recovery Program, prepares an evening meal for the residents and drop-ins who are looking for a warm and healthy dinner. Residents must work at the Rescue Mission or pay a fee, if able, for their recovery program enrollment. Click to view larger
George Machado, a resident in the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission’s Residential Recovery Program, prepares an evening meal for the residents and drop-ins who are looking for a warm and healthy dinner. Residents must work at the Rescue Mission or pay a fee, if able, for their recovery program enrollment. (J.C. Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

Nonprofits that can’t pay employees competitive salaries may experience more staff turnover and worker burnout, said Ben Romo, executive director of First 5 Santa Barbara County, which distributes sales tax revenue from tobacco products to early childhood development programs.

“If there’s constant turnover and people have to be retrained and people have to be integrated, then organizations are really struggling, and the quality of services that we’re getting for our investment is diminished,” he told Noozhawk.

New employees also mean the loss of a nonprofit’s institutional knowledge, Romo said.

Low pay can leave nonprofit workers in the same financial distress as the people they serve, which creates a morale issue in and of itself, he added.

With so many Santa Barbara nonprofits doing similar work, Romo added, donors can maximize nonprofits’ success by investing in service models that have proven to be effective.

That would also provide nonprofits an opportunity to improve their staff’s livelihoods by investing more in their personal training and preparation — strengthening, rather than potentially diminishing their connection to their organizations and their passion for their causes, he said.

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Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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