The payoff of fair compensation

Sustainability, Part 3

August 11, 2021

In last month’s blog post on sustainability, Rishi Manchanda mentioned that having people with lived experience involved in the governance of your work is one of the most important health equity strategies. Through peer learning conversations, HCCC grantees continue to explore the relationship between sustainability and community engagement, particularly as they grapple with the topic of fair compensation. 

Providing expertise on an ongoing basis can be a substantial, particularly for residents involved in multiple meetings a week. For these community leaders, meaningful engagement can be a lot to ask for as they juggle other responsibilities. As a result, many organizations are turning to monetary compensation to repay community members for their involvement.  

Compensation for residents is a great motivator to pique diverse community interest in your projects and elevate community voices. Plus, it demonstrates that community input isn’t simply just being asked for, but also valued, listened to and rewarded.

Realizing that resident expertise is necessary to continue doing meaningful and impactful work, many HCCC project teams are already compensating or planning to compensate their community members for the time they are dedicating to their Challenge work. 

How are HCCC communities approaching compensating their community? Some ideas from our network: 

Clearly communicate benefits and expectations

One of the most important steps in the compensation process is articulating the benefits and expectations of compensation to residents as early as possible, Carmen Llanes Pulido from Go Austin/Vamos Austin emphasized in a webinar presentation for our peer learning network. Ask residents what makes it possible for them to participate, and be transparent about what they are committing to do. 

Community organizer Darryl Jackson from Paterson, New Jersey, added that temporary financial assistance can help residents achieve longer term financial stability. Compensating residents can give them the funds to address more urgent financial needs and the time to prepare their finances for the future.

In New Brunswick, New Jersey, project leaders are working with youth through school internship and summer programs. Centering transparency at the forefront of their Challenge work, the students engaged in their project know from the start they’ll only be compensated for the work they are able to complete. Setting expectations like these earlier on can help residents feel sure of what they are committing to when joining your project. 

Determine what appropriate compensation looks like 

HCCC communities also recommend holding candid conversations with community members to identify how they want to be compensated. Some residents might be at risk of losing federal assistance benefits like SNAP from added income. Having a conversation to recognize how monetary compensation can affect residents’ participation in benefits programs can help determine what a proper strategy for compensation might look like. 

Community members in Paterson, New Jersey and Rochester, New York presented similar concerns over losing nutrition assistance benefits, and project leaders circumnavigated this issue by providing gift cards as a form of monetary compensation. 

Free resources can help you determine a living wage for residents in your community. Be intentional in not just how you are reimbursing residents for their time, but also in how much. 

Go beyond financial compensation

As you work to financially compensate your residents, keep in mind that there are ways to reimburse community residents beyond just money, like providing child care or transportation. In her presentation, Carmen also emphasized the importance of maximizing the health and wellness of residents and actively practicing self-care in your Challenge work. Any degree of support offered to residents will be reflected in the work they do for their community. 

Carmen recommended celebrating resident accomplishments as an excellent strategy for demonstrating care and recognition. For example, in Cambria County, project leaders use their monthly newsletter as a way to recognize the accomplishments of their community health workers through a spotlight feature. Celebrating residents for their contributions beyond providing money allows room for developing trust and deeper community connections. 

Compensating residents is not a simple process, by any means. It makes you think critically about the circumstances surrounding your community and relationships between time and money. While approaching compensation for residents will look slightly different in each community, there is immense value in supporting the individuals driving your work. 

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