Panel discusses difficulties of leading nonprofits

Megan Menchaca

Current and former nonprofit executives debated the economic and structural challenges facing nonprofit organizations in Austin during a panel hosted on Wednesday by UT’s human dimensions of organizations program.

Moderated by Art Markman, founding director of the human dimensions program, the panelists said they all struggled with funding their institutions and managing their employees.

The nonprofit radio station KUT has faced significant economic challenges because of little turnover between employees and a lack of mobility within his association, said Stewart Vanderwilt, director and general manager.

“The cost of living is growing faster than the wages are growing, so we have to work really hard to raise up the floor for our people while also finding ways for them to advance,” Vanderwilt said. “But the only way that people can really advance through a nonprofit is if someone else retires or leaves.”

Regina Rogoff, CEO of the People’s Community Clinic health facility, said the high demand for medical workers creates a lack of job security within her nonprofit.

“Many of our workers are making $15 an hour, driving over an hour to come to work and can’t afford to live in Austin,” Rogoff said. “So if they find a job close to home, they’re not so loyal that they’ll stay with us, because there’s a huge demand for our workforce. We have to try really hard to make them want to stay.”

Fusebox managing director Brad Carlin said his nonprofit has faced many difficulties obtaining donations because the focus of his organization, arts and culture, is often seen as a luxury in society.

“We are not seen in the same strata as other nonprofits, so we are especially susceptible to swings in the economy,” Carlin said. “One of our biggest challenges is just reminding folks how important arts and culture are to the community.”

Katrina St. John, human dimensions of organizations sophomore, said she attended the panel because of the significant effect nonprofits have had on her low-income community.

“I feel like understanding the importance of what a nonprofit can do is not appreciated because they’re not really considered important in America,” St. John said. “And I wasn’t really surprised by the issues that the panelists brought up at all, because they were just the types of issues that you would expect with being in a nonprofit.”