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After decades as executive director of The Food Bank of Waterloo Region, Wendi Campbell asked the organization’s board to change her title to CEO.

Her rationale? As someone who manages a complex organization, including the day-to-day operations of a 31,000-square-foot food warehouse that serves all of southwestern Ontario, Ms. Campbell was, in fact, running a business.

“Why should your title not reflect that you’re doing exactly the same job as a for-profit CEO?” Ms. Campbell says. Now, as CEO of her organization, she believes more women in the non-profit world should follow her example.

Executive director (ED) is the traditional title for leaders in the sector, and many people assume that it’s equivalent to the CEO label in for-profit businesses. Ms. Campbell, and others like her, believe the ED label is antiquated, and contributes to a gap in pay equity between men and women that’s even wider than in the for-profit sphere.

Dealing women in non-profits a ‘double blow’

According to Doina Oncel, part of the problem is our societal expectation that people in helping professions – predominantly women – somehow don’t deserve to be compensated to the degree they would be elsewhere.

Ms. Oncel, who is founder and CEO of hEr VOLUTION, a non-profit aimed at bringing young women from underrepresented communities into science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), initially trained as a women’s and children’s counselor.

“When you go to school, the first thing they tell you is you’re doing this because you want to make an impact on other people, not to make money,” she says.

It’s well-known that women executives make less than men in the for-profit world. According to a May 2021 Statistics Canada study, women executives earn about 56 per cent less than their male counterparts.

But there’s a chasm between the average salaries of EDs versus CEOs too, notes Ms. Oncel, which means women leaders in non-profits are often dealt a double blow. (A search, for example, pegs the average non-profit ED salary in Canada at $66,887 and the average CEO at $146,213.) What’s more, few non-profit organizations offer maternity and parental top-up benefits, resulting in further loss of income.

Ms. Oncel says some organizations may be reluctant to replace the ED title with CEO because they want to exploit this kind of salary discrepancy.

“I think it has to do with not wanting to pay a CEO,” she says. “It’s easier to say, ‘Let’s just call you an executive director,’ and pay you as such, but you still have the job of a CEO.”

A change in perception

Some people might dismiss the non-profit pay difference as due to a difference in responsibilities, based on narrow personal experience with these kinds of organizations. Take food banks, for example.

“If you grew up in a small town where the food bank was a group of volunteers who worked in a church basement, that’s your perception of a food bank,” Ms. Campbell notes. By contrast, her organization is the centre of a Community Food Assistance Network comprising more than 100 community programs and agency partners.

Some organizations may also be holding on to the ED title to avoid the business connotation evoked by the CEO label, but Ms. Campell says that argument is no longer relevant – if it ever was.

“I have learned that I can [use] business skills to really elevate the outcome of our organization,” Ms. Campbell says. “And if we put this business lens and framework on our organization, we could have much more impact in our communities.”

In order to achieve that greater impact, non-profits should be offering the kind of compensation that attracts top-quality candidates, Ms. Oncel adds.

“We talk about innovation, but meanwhile, we still run our non-profits like our ancestors did,” she says. “We need to change that.”

Ask Women and Work

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Question: I’m a small business owner and I’m at the stage where I need to hire one or two employees to help me with things like marketing and social media. But I’m feeling overwhelmed by the hiring process. Where should I find my people? How much should I offer them in compensation? I want to make sure I’m getting the right people for the job, but I keep putting it off because I don’t want to do this wrong.

We asked Melissa Malcolm, founder and principal consultant at Malcolm HR Consulting in Pickering, Ont., to field this one:

As a small business owner, there are a few things you need to consider before jumping into hiring. First, what kind of time commitment do you need this person for? If it’s something you will require on an ‘as-needed’ basis, you may want to go with a freelance contractor rather than hiring somebody full-time on payroll. You noted that you are specifically looking for someone to do marketing and social media, and there are so many freelancers in that space who can take on multiple clients at once.

Next, you need to assess your finances and your ability to pay somebody a salary. Once you hire an employee, that comes with taxes, CPP and EI contributions. So it’s about talking to your accountant and asking if this is something that you would be able to swing. Also, are there grants or tax credits that you can make use of to help offset these costs?

When it comes to determining compensation for your potential employee, take a look at job postings for similar positions to get a feel for the going rate. You can use, or to do salary searches. There are other salary guides and calculators you can utilize too. If you are interested in hiring someone on contract, there are a lot of Facebook groups for freelancers where you can find out what people are charging and make connections that way.

As for where to place your job posting, sites like Indeed and LinkedIn offer businesses the opportunity to post their job ads for free. Or, you may choose to go with a recruitment agency or consultant to help you with your hiring. The process can be very time consuming – you may be inundated with a lot of applicants that do not meet what you’re looking for, plus there’s the time reading through resumes and conducting interviews. It’s about deciding how much time you are willing to take away from your business to devote to the recruitment process.

If you’ve decided to do it yourself, it’s really important to make a list of what you are looking for in terms of duties and responsibilities. Be realistic about what your needs are. Sometimes people may not apply because we’ve listed grander qualifications than necessary. Do you really need somebody that has seven years experience running social media? Maybe not.

There’s also a big push right now to ensure that job postings have the salary listed for transparency. I think it can really help with the decision-making process on both ends, because the person applying for the position can decide, ‘This isn’t the right salary for me,’ or ‘It’s the perfect salary for me,’ relative to the responsibilities and workload, which saves everyone’s time.

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