Have you heard about Raymond Burse, the newly appointed interim-president of Kentucky State University who voluntarily reduced his salary by 25% in order to ensure that all university employees would make a minimum hourly wage of $10.25? That’s right, this HBCU president gave up a total of $90,125 so that 24 employees– some of whom were making $7.25 an hour – could receive a wage increase. On top of this he has pledged to give up additional salary to ensure no future employees make less than $10.25. He initiated the proposal to the university’s board of trustees and they made the changes to his compensation package.
“Who is this man?”, you may ask. He is a past-president of KSU (1982 – 1989), an attorney, and former vice president and general counsel at GE. In our minds he is also a master at generating good will and national media attention. His decision will directly improve the lives of impacted employees. It also shows that he has “skin in the game.” He is willing to personally sacrifice in order to advance the institution and its standing in the community. His action can help break down the walls that too often divide administration from faculty, staff and students, and the university from local residents. His decision reallocates existing resources and demonstrates commitment to the institution.
Our minds were racing when we heard the news. Too often we hear statements from nonprofit leaders that include “what can I do?” or “we don’t have any resources” or “no one knows about our organization.” Burse’s actions caused people all over the country to take notice. When we heard him interviewed on television he mentioned a result of his decision: people are making inquiries about enrolling and giving. These are two priorities that confront almost every institution of higher education. While his decision was a personal one based on what he believed was right, it has had national impact. He defined his agenda and presented it to the board of trustees.
When we look at Burse’s decision through the lens of fundraising we ask nonprofit leaders – including university presidents – to take time to contemplate and articulate your vision and to then do what you can do to bring that vision into life. Burse is an African American leader who took initiative. What actions can you initiate? Burse reallocated resources. What resources can you reallocate? Burse’s decision attracted positive attention and will certainly help to reposition KSU. What actions can you take that will reposition your nonprofit?
We believe Burse’s decision was an ethical one with many positive implications. What resources and relationships are available to your nonprofit that have not yet been fully utilized? Are there opportunities you are not yet taking advantage of? Take time to reflect and when appropriate, take ethical action.
Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.” They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at www.saadandshaw.com. Follow them on Twitter: @saadshaw.