by M. Anthony Davis
Choose 180, a local nonprofit that supports youth, announced that it would raise its baseline salary to $70,000 per year, a more than $20,000 pay increase for frontline staff.
“The way we will structure this,” said Executive Director Sean Goode, “is that all direct service folks will make $70,000, our managers will make $75,000, and our directors will make $80,000.”
Choose 180 has built a reputation in the community for advocacy and support to youth facing incarceration. Through programs and partnerships, Choose 180 provides youth with workshops focused on empowerment and positive choices as well as felony intervention. It connects youth with “success coaches,” school-based diversion programs for youth facing expulsion or suspension, job training, and more programs and opportunities designed to interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline.
This will be a huge leap for some employees, who made around $48,000 per year. The internal messaging was delivered at a recent staff meeting.
“Some of them left with a $20,000 pay increase, with the understanding that it’s going to show up on the next check,” Goode said.
The idea for the wage increases came to Goode during the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the pandemic, when people were able to come together, there was a relational connectivity that masked shortcomings in the industry such as pay.
“You’re not like making a ton of money, but you love what you do,” Goode said.
When the coronavirus forced people to stay home, and the stress from the pandemic compounded with lack of personal connectivity, staff started to look at their career through a new lens, which led to conversations around wages.
Choose 180 was already paying staff above market rate compared to similar nonprofits, but Goode contemplated whether or not “above average” was actually good enough.
“We’re paying better than most people are paying,” Goode said, describing his initial thought process. “I’m sorry, but this is like nonprofit work. It just kind of is what it is. I did it. I had to climb up the ladder. And before I knew it, I had kind of started sounding like I was ‘bootstrapping.’”
Goode recognized he was justifying the struggles of others with the fact that he himself had similar struggles in his past. After this realization, he met with a board-convened committee, along with human resources, and held an organization-wide wage philosophy assessment.
Multiple themes emerged. Some were related to ways to value folks with lived experience and ways to value folks with college degrees. But the theme that reoccurred most often was the living wage. So Goode, along with the human resources committee, recommended to the board to raise staff wages.
The significance of this pay raise reaches beyond staff at Choose 180. Goode hopes to see this organization-wide pay increase become a trend for fellow nonprofits in the region.
“For me, what it means for our region and the other nonprofit providers and the funders, is a call to action. That we can’t simultaneously serve young people in community and say, ‘We have to change the material conditions that they’re living in,’ while we’re employing people who are only being resourced in a way to live in those same material conditions that we’re working to change for these young folks and their families,” Goode said.
While reflecting on the immediate change in Choose 180, Goode expressed a firm belief in ensuring that his organizational pursuit of justice externally must also include the same principles internally. Economic justice is a pivotal issue plaguing the Black community, which is amplified in the region by gentrification and displacement of people and communities.
How can organizations working to support youth facing these injustices not support employees who are often affected by similar circumstances?
“I will say that prior to us doing this, there are organizations that have been doing wage equity work before us. Collective Justice, Creative Justice, and Freedom Project all have different ways of [approaching] wage equity that have helped inspire this move that we made … I absolutely believe that this can be a catalytic moment, to be able to move many of us forward in this direction,” Goode said.
M. Anthony Davis (Mike Davis) is a local journalist covering arts, culture, and sports.
📸 Featured Image: An August 2021 community event held at the Choose 180 offices in Burien, WA. (Photo: Alex Garland)
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