Friday, August 17, 2007

How Much is Too Much?

How much money is too much? Can you make too much? Can you have too much? Should someone be able to criticize you for accepting more than they perceive your position is worth? How about when it comes to employees of non-profit organizations? How about employees of Christian non-profit organizations? Do the rules change in those instances?

Let's look at this with a little clarity and in keeping with my previous post, let's look at this issue with honesty. And after some basic, layman-level pointers on how our free-market economy works, lets also discuss the fact that God isn't interested in economics or in the amount of money we have or make. He is more interested in what it does to us and what we do with it.

We live in a country where the free market reigns. Only the strong/relevant/useful survive when it comes to doing business in our economy. The rest fall by the wayside. If someone puts a product out on the shelf or offers a service you think is priced too high, what do you do? Well you have 3 choices as I see it:

1. You look to see if there's anybody else willing to do/offer it cheaper.
2. You pay the price advertised.
3. You don't buy the product or service.

For the more entrepreneurial-minded, there may be a 4th option: you start a business offering the same product/service at a better price than the rest of the competition and make a little money doing it! But in any case, no one dictates to you on your decision. You decide how long that company or organization will be in business with your buying decisions.

When it comes to salaries in our secular economy, competition, supply and demand win the day. What someone is paid is based on the demand for that position and supply of workers available for that position. It has nothing to do with skills, experience or anything else. Those things just simply dictate how you compare with others in your industry and the level someone is willing to pay you at for your level of skills, knowledge and experience. As an aside, the area you live in tends to factor in somewhat also. I most likely make more than an art director working for a non-profit in Tulsa or OKC - both much smaller markets than Dallas - but considering costs of living etc., it probably doesn't amount to much more. But nonetheless, there probably is a difference.

The same principles apply to non profits - the free market dictates them too.

I once told a colleague who owns his own ad agency that the organization I worked for really didn't have a product to sell. And besides, I told him, we don't compete for "business" anyways. We simply serve those that need our help along side other non-profits who offer the same services. He begged to differ on both counts. He said we absolutely did have a product to sell and we were actually in competition with other non-profits. Our product is how we use the donors money - how effective our ministry is, and of course, we compete for donors dollars. We must show that we are the best organization for people to donate money to based on how we spend it. To use that example, if donors thought employee compensation was too high, then they would deem that organization unwise in handling funds and not give to that organization. It's that simple. I have watched people walk away from supporting organizations because they found out that what they considered a large part of their donation was going to overhead to run the organization. Or maybe that organization wasn't spending their donation in the wisest way. That is their choice since it's their money. The organization now has a decision to make: is that (now former) donor right or wrong? The process involves two entities operating freely to make decisions based on what they deem best for their respective causes.

Biblically speaking, the verse that comes to mind is the one that talks of a worker being worth his wages (1 Timothy 5:18). It doesn't dictate how that worth should be compensated or what level of compensation other than saying that elders and those that preach and teach in the church should get a double share (double honor) in a prior verse. The fact remains that when it comes to money, there really is only one overall message God wants us to understand: You cannot serve both money and God.

For some, the overwhelming need to make more and more money is a hindrance to their spiritual lives. They may only make $20k a year. But if they long to make $40k a year and that is their singular goal in life, then they are not serving God, rather they are serving their own selfish desires. If on the other hand, someone, because of market conditions, their skill set, experience, knowledge, who they know, etc. finds that he can make $1 million a year, and he serves God and not his money, then he is better off than the one who longs to have the $40k.

So we can all get upset, complain about another's salary, say it's more than the national average, etc. But in the end, it's driven by economics - supply and demand. But like I pointed out, economics and free market principles are not very high on God's list. He wants to know where you stand in how you deal with the money He allows you to make. So if you make a ton of money and are not ruled by it, good for you - even if I or anyone else thinks you make too much! Make sure you are using what God has blessed you with for His Kingdom's advance. On the other hand, if you let money rule you in any way, then you should be worried. What little that has been given to you will be taken away from you and given to the one who already has much, but is not ruled by it - and is using it to advance the Kingdom.

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