Leaving the Peace & Justice Center

-Rachel Siegel, PJC Executive Director

My class and race privilege limit my ability to do this work with the expertise and authenticity that this organization deserves.  I came to this solid understanding after participating in the Anne Braden Anti-Racist Organizer Training Program for white social justice activists last year. As a nonprofit, like most nonprofits, we do not offer a lot of financial compensation nor benefits. At PJC, we don’t even offer healthcare 

We are in a bind: If we are to be more successful as an organization, we need leadership from those most impacted by the oppressions we address AND when we hire people who lives with more marginalization, it is hard for them to support themselves in this job. I was able to live off this salary, and lack of benefits, because of my access to wealth: I have insurance through my partner’s job, I have no college debt, and my parents help pay for things related to my kids. This is not normal. 

I have had series of meetings with members to discuss the situation in more depth. Here is a 15 minute video that gives overview of the issues we are up against and why we need this change of leadership. We are looking for ideas to support this transition and for help from people who do have money to give (specifically, I’m looking for threeyear pledges of amounts listed below). 

After the video, we had rich conversations. Here are a few things that emerged during the discussions: 

Organizational budget: It was $272,000 when I was hired in 2013. Last year it had grown to $405,000. Unfortunately, we had three significant setbacks last year: store sales, grants, and major donors were down by about $15,000 each ($45,000 total). Grants were down because we unexpectedly had three grant writers over the course of the year so missed some opportunities. We lost a handful of major donors due to a couple of stances we took that people didn’t agree with regarding trans inclusion and Palestinian solidarity. We were poised to hire a sixth employee and considering offering healthcare and then had to revert to five staff members and no health insurance. This year’s budget is $372,000. 

Store costs: The store makes up about half of the center’s budget in terms of income and cost. It is usually a break even, self-supporting program that educates the public, gives local shoppers an ethical option, and supports vendors, farmers, and artisans around the world — some of whom sell solely or primarily at our store. Store sales have been going down the past few years most likely because bricks and mortar retail is suffering everywhere – hello AmazonPlus, there is the hole in downtown Burlington that is a serious detraction. Unfortunately, online sales aren’t viable for us because we don’t have storage space for inventory. Website upkeep for a store is too labor intensive — we tried. 

Income streams: If we set the store budget aside, about 72% of our income is from individual donations/memberships, 25% is from  educational programs fees, and 8% is grants.  

Staffing: When I started 6 1/2 years ago, we had a little less than three full time equivalents (FTEs) spread out over five people. At our peak last year, we had five FTE (spread out over six people). Now we are at four and a half. Of our current staff, two are people of color and three are white. Four are cisgender and one is trans/nonbinary. Four are from working class/poor backgrounds and one is from the owning class/upper class. 

People working here deserve and need to be paid more. They need health insurance. I include the current staff in this plea. As we’re thinking about how to recruit and retain a new ED, who has more lived experience of marginalization than I do, it is imperative that we also consider the folks on staff currently who also are living on small paychecks and no health insurance. 

Feel free to share the video and situation with anyone and please share any ideas you generate. The integrity and effectiveness of the PJC will be impacted greatly by our ability to come together and offer more robust benefits and higher pay rates. I have been able to raise my family and live off the relatively low pay and lack of benefits because of my privileges. But in exchange for that, the organization has not been able to do as much since I am not an expert in many of the issues we are addressing.  I cannot in good conscience suggest that someone with less access to privilege than I have take on the ED role unless they are compensated better than I have been. 

Our goal is to increase pay rates and staffing hours and add health insurance. The costs to do this are:  

  • $30,000 for increased pay rates for current staff  
  • $30,000 health insurance  
  • $30,000 sixth staff member  

This means raising an additional $90,000. I believe that together we can do this!  

In order to reach these goals, and create stability in the transition of leadership, we are looking for three-year pledges. Most people reading this cannot give at these levels. Those of you who can, thank you for considering digging deep. Here’s how the fundraising could play out: 

  • One pledge of $20,000  
  • One pledges of $15,000  
  • Two pledges of $10,000  
  • Four pledges of $5,000  
  • Four pledges of $2,500  
  • Five pledges of $1,000  

If you can make one of these pledges, or if you know other people who we can ask, please let me know. We have already received two $10,000 pledges, one $2,500, and one $1,000. We are on our way. 

As you know, we are up against a lot. It takes all of us together, working with a multitude of tactics, to keep shifting toward a better world.