A nonprofit’s core mission rests as much in the hands of the employees as the community. For a nonprofit to do all the good it can, its board needs to hire and retain the right people for the job. But that isn’t always easy. There’s a certain public perception of how nonprofits work that lumps basic operating costs, which include employee pay, into a dirty word called “overhead.” To donors, that sounds like money that isn’t going to further the nonprofit’s cause. But if a nonprofit doesn’t have people with the right knowledge, skills and passion, its ability to effect change diminishes.

“It’s been my experience that we are just losing incredible talent in the nonprofit industry because we are not able to pay as competitively as our for-profit counterparts,” says Courtney Deuser, development officer at The Place (formerly Urban Peak). “There’s a lot of amazing work being done by nonprofit organizations, and I believe we could have probably solved some of our societal issues if we were able to keep people in a place where they’re able to help with those problems.”

Deuser is originally from Cherryvale, Kansas, and she’s lived in the Springs since 2016. Her first job here — also her first job in human services — was as an executive assistant for Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado. Their mission resonated with her, and she fell in love with the work.

“I really believe in social equity and believe in fighting for that,” she says. “When people are hungry or experiencing homelessness, that’s certainly not putting them on a very equitable path.”

For Deuser, the pursuit of justice, fairness and equality extends beyond the clients that Care and Share and The Place work with; it applies also to the people doing the work to effect social equity. Deuser has started tackling the issue of compensation for nonprofit employees in a big way — and she’s just been admitted into UCCS’ Ph.D. program for educational leadership, research and policy, where she’ll research nonprofit compensation.

Working at The Place, this area of study hits home for Deuser. She frequently listens to co-workers’ frustrations about the pull between the importance of their work — “They’re on the front lines saving young people,” says Deuser — and the reality that they could be making more money doing similar work at a for-profit organization.

In her day-to-day duties for The Place, she initiates difficult conversations with donors about the need for appropriately compensating nonprofit employees, doing work she describes as debunking the myth of overhead. She does the same in her work with Colorado Springs Rising Professionals as the board of directors’ representative to the group’s philanthropic committee through an educational effort she’s dubbed “How do I philanthropy?”

“It’s engaging our next generation of donors who are already making their mark as philanthropic leaders in their own way right now,” she says, “but really emphasizing with that group the overhead myth and challenging them to think differently.”