The question posed to the panel this week really struck a nerve, especially after my recent conversation with George Jones, executive director of Bread for the City, one of Washington, D.C.'s most respected nonprofit community organizations. Under George's leadership, Bread's managerial team recently agreed to a 12% pay cut, and the staff to a 10% reduction, so as not to eliminate their programs that serve D.C.'s poor. This was not a unilateral decision made by the executive director and board. Staff members had an opportunity to weigh in on the difficult choices before them: cut programs, lay-off some colleagues, or take pay cuts across the organization.
George Jones and the Bread for the City staff set an example of how to handle this economic crisis with grace and dignity. They are true leaders. The following "Message to Our Community" from the Bread for the City website says it all:
We are in the midst of what some are calling the most severe economic crisis in several generations. Throughout the District of Columbia, residents face rising unemployment, insecure housing, and inadequate health care. Yet even as the need for assistance escalates, service agencies that help the most vulnerable are facing financial difficulty of their own.
Bread for the City has entered this recession in a position of relative strength: our sources of funding are as diversified as possible, thus affording critical insulation from economic turbulence. But we are not immune to the downturn. In particular, we struggle with the rising costs of operation: essentials like health care and food prices are placing great strains on our budget.
With great deliberation, our board and staff have decided upon a course of action that will minimize the short-term impact of this crisis, while positioning ourselves for long-term growth. To sustain our high levels of service, our staff and management will make sacrifices.
• Starting on April 1, 2009, staff salaries will be reduced by 10% and management salaries by 12%.
• To allow our staff some flexibility to adapt to these changes, Bread for the City will be closed for client services on Fridays. Our new operational schedule for both Centers will be Monday through Thursday, from 9am to 5pm.
• In September, some staff positions will revert to a stipend volunteer capacity.
Taken together, this set of changes will allow us to avoid substantial cuts to client services and staff. At the same time, Bread for the City is moving forward with a number of initiatives that will pave the way for long-term growth.
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