...the Feds have had to take over the pension obligations of one of Chicago’s oldest nonprofits.The good news is that the nonprofit in question actually has pension obligations. Many of its fellows don’t.

(And no, it’s not a coincidence that this is also one of the relatively few nonprofits whose employees are represented by a union. Amazing what collective bargaining can produce!)

This is a terrible time for nonprofits to face additional financial obligations, like those involved in making sure people who’ve given their lives to the agency are able to retire with the dignity of adequate resources. But it’s also a terrible time to put people on the street without such resources.

As it is written: nonprofits exist to serve poor people, not create them. Every nonprofit serious about surviving must also make itself serious about the post-work survival of its employees. If you’re a Board chair, put “Create a Task Force on Pensions” on the agenda of your very next meeting. If you’re a Board member, volunteer to chair the said task force. If you’re an Executive Director, point out this item to your Board chair. Don’t wait; it’s already pretty late in the day.

You can, of course, NOT do this; but then don’t be surprised if sooner or later a union organizer comes to call. Nonprofits, like other businesses, can either treat their employees well voluntarily, or be compelled to do so. The choice is yours.

imageKelly Kleiman, who blogs as The Nonprofiteer, is a lawyer and freelance journalist whose reportage and essays about the arts, philanthropy and women’s issues have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor and other dailies; in magazines including In These Times and Chicago Philanthropy; and on websites including Aislesay.com and Artscope.net.