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Nonprofit

Interview with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice on Social Work and Poliltics

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The Southern Coalition for Social Justice  (SCSJ) is a nonprofit dedicated to the expansion of civil rights located in Durham, North Carolina, and I have been watching their activities for a long time. They are truly on a mission to reform the criminal justice system, protect voting rights, racial profiling, and immigration reform.

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Shoshannah Sayers, the Deputy Director at SCSJ. Although mostly composed of lawyers, they also have community organizers who assist with outreach to help aid vulnerable populations. Before we get into the interview, I want to share several reasons why I believe collective collaboration with various fields are needed in order to impact today’s societal problems.

social justiceOften, I talk about my work as a social worker, but I have never really discussed what fuels my passion and desire for systematic change. When I got of college, my first job was at a Youth Correctional facility until I was transferred to the Super Max facility which housed the worst of the worst inmates in the State of North Carolina.

It was a 24 hour lock-down supervision facility, and once I entered, I was locked-down with them too. To transfer an inmate, they had to be strapped down like Hannibal Lecter, and this is no joke. Then, I went into law enforcement as a patrol officer because I thought I could do more prevention, but this proved to be problematic for me too because of the systematic in flexibility.

After I finally started working in field in which I was educated for, social work, the realization hit me that these systems are not designed to do prevention.

As a third generation teen parent, I may not have a Phd behind my name, yet I feel uniquely qualified in understanding how education, social services, law enforcement, and the criminal justice system aids oppression and retards vulnerable population’s ability to rise above their circumstance. Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is not possible without opportunities and a support system. These systems can not be reformed from within because one must either conform, leave voluntarily, or against their will.

My hope is that macro-practice social work and organizations such as SCSJ will begin to collaborate and share resources by realizing you are working to uplift the same demographics.  Here is the Q&A with SCSJ on their mission and vision for the future. Spoiler Alert…They will have their first MSW Macro intern starting in the fall.

SWH: Tell me about a bit about the mission and goals of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, when it was formed, and your role there?

SS: The Southern Coalition for Social Justice, or SCSJ, is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization founded in August 2007 in Durham, North Carolina, and I was privileged to be part of it. We were a multidisciplinary group, predominantly people of color, who believed that families and communities engaged in social justice struggles need a wide variety of tools to be successful in overcoming structural racism. We saw the need for a team of lawyers, social scientists, community organizers and media specialists to support them in their efforts to dismantle structural racism and oppression.

Most importantly, this diverse group of experts needed to be willing to listen to what each community wanted instead of “parachuting in” and telling a community how we experts thought the problem should be addressed. SCSJ was born from this deep passion for listening to communities first and foremost. We do give advice and provide multiple options, but in the end it is the community that decides how their issue will be addressed and our commitment is to provide the highest quality tools available to execute the community’s plan of action.

I was a board member from the organization’s founding in 2007 until early 2013, when I resigned from the board in order to pursue a staff position with SCSJ. I am currently the Deputy Director, and quite honestly it’s my dream job – I get to help people and support our mission every single day. I also get to work with some of the most dedicated, passionate social justice advocates I have ever met.

SWH: What kind of tools and research do you guys use in helping to support the cases and projects that you take on?

SS: Because our staff includes a variety of experts, we are able to bring many tools to the table. We have a policy analyst/researcher who uses GIS maps to give visible representations of inequality in the system. For example, he was able to create maps showing where marijuana arrests take place and then lay that over a map of where high concentrations of African American communities. The result is a clear visual depiction of the practice of targeting African American neighborhoods for marijuana arrests. Being able to see this on a map is so much more powerful that reading statistics in a report.

Other tools include our legal team, which engages in social justice litigation ranging from voting rights to environmental justice to criminal justice reform. And our bilingual community organizer is able to mobilize local communities on issues from immigration reform to job opportunities for formerly incarcerated people.

SWH: Social Workers were originally the staples in the social justice movement, and now social justice advocate positions tend to be held by attorneys. In what ways have you guys engaged macro community practice social workers or would like to engage for collaboration or partnerships?

SS: This is an exciting area that we are just beginning to explore. Our first macro social work student will begin her practicum with us in the Fall 2013 semester, and we are excited about the new tools she will bring to the table. Her work will largely be around helping formerly incarcerated people organize and gain the tools they need to successfully reintegrate into society. Based on her experiences, we plan to create a plan to more widely integrate macro social work into our efforts.

SWH: What are two of the highest advocacy priorities of the coalition at this time?

SS: Right now our two highest priorities include one litigation strategy around voting rights issues and one community organizing effort around empowering formerly incarcerated people. We have been involved in redistricting litigation since 2011, where our goal is to get over 40 North Carolina voting precincts redrawn in a more fair and equitable way. In our opinion, the current redistricting plan attempts to dilute the vote of African Americans by cramming them all into a few districts and leaving their voice unheard in many other districts. We had a trial on part of this case during the week of June 10, 2013 and we hope to hear back on the success of that effort very soon.

Our second effort is around solutions to the epidemic of unnecessary drug arrests in communities of color. The general population of North Carolina is 68.5% white, 21.5% black and 8.4% Latino, while the state’s prison population for drug-related offenses is 28.5% white, 53.2% black and 17.6% Latino. Communities of color are obviously disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system, which makes these communities more likely to face the harsh, sometimes lifelong collateral consequences triggered by a criminal conviction. Last year we supported a bill in the general assembly that would have gotten rid of criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana, replacing these with civil penalties and fines that did not involve a criminal conviction. In the current political climate, this bill died in committee.

As we regroup and wait to see what the legislature will look like in the next long session, we need to find more immediate remedies. Our first community organizing effort was a successful Ban the Box pilot in Durham, NC. Ban the Box campaigns ask local government employers to remove the check-box question, “have you ever been convicted of a crime?” from their employment applications. This gives formerly incarcerated people the chance to get a job interview where they can explain, in person, the nature of their record rather than being automatically excluded without ever getting an interview. Once we were able to pass Ban the Box in Durham, it was taken up by other communities across the state and we now have 6 municipalities participating. SCSJ continues to organize communities to expand Ban the Box.

Building on this success, our new community organizing project is to make marijuana possession a “lowest law enforcement priority.” This means that the police would be seeking out people committing more serious offenses rather than seeking out marijuana possession. We plan to use the same community organizing model (and probably work with many of the same communities) for the LLEP initiative as we have used for the Ban the Box initiative. Together, this type of community organizing can make important strides in reducing the collateral consequences of incarceration while we await a General Assembly that may be more interested in these issues.

SWH: What vision does the coalition have for the future?

SS: Our vision is simple: Communities will succeed in realizing their own goals and people will know from experience that they can make a difference on issues that matter to them. I think of it like this: once a community works with SCSJ and has a victory, they will know that THEY hold the power to make real chance. They will go forward, either with our help or on their own, to make more and more positive social change.

SWH: If readers want to follow your activities and projects, how do they find you on the web?

SS: I encourage people to visit our website at www.southerncoalition.org. We are also available on Facebook at www.facebook.com/southerncoalition and on twitter at https://twitter.com/scsj. Readers are also invited to join our LinkedIn Group at http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Southern-Coalition-Social-Justice-5021808

I have attached below a powerful speech by Daryl Atkinson who is now one of the attorneys working at SCSJ. Daryl spent 40 months in an Alabama Prison before getting his associates, bachelors, and law degrees. Listen to his story and plea for change:

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Deona Hooper, MSW is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Social Work Helper, and she has experience in nonprofit communications, tech development and social media consulting. Deona has a Masters in Social Work with a concentration in Management and Community Practice as well as a Certificate in Nonprofit Management both from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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Nonprofit

Your Group Wants to Become a Nonprofit — What Now?

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It’s one thing to have hobbies and interests; parlaying them into a nonprofit organization is another leap entirely.

Expansion is an easy concept to imagine but a difficult one for most of us to execute.

In a hobby or interest group’s case, it’s tough to identify the right time to venture into nonprofit status. For molecular biologist Nina Dudnik, her epiphany started when she was studying rice in Ivory Coast. Conducting research in a developing country without enough equipment proved challenging, so after she began her Ph.D. program at Harvard University, she and a few fellow students collected extra supplies and equipment to send to labs in developing countries.

From that effort sprang a nonprofit venture that eventually became Seeding Labs, a firm that trains scientist and provides equipment to developing nations. Dudnik’s idea sprouted from a cause she had personal experience in, and she quickly found a way to translate it to a broader scale.

So how can an interest group widen its scope into a serious nonprofit? It starts with identifying the desired end goal and detailing the steps necessary to arrive there.

What Giving Gets You

When looking to invest more time and effort into a cause, going the nonprofit route makes sense. Nonprofits are highly credible entities that can exert social influences on broader audiences because a nonprofit donation elicits a stronger emotional response in the giver than spending money at a for-profit, even if the end result is the same.

Nonprofits are also eligible for certain federal tax exemptions. Provided they agree to be audited, corporate income tax is waived, and that money can be reinvested into the organization. Additionally, state and federal governing bodies and some private groups also offer nonprofit tax credits for nonprofits, so even if a nonprofit owes some taxes, these credits give organizations other options to stretch their operating budgets.

When homing in on a nonprofit cause, start with pinpointing a mission that’s the company’s sole focus. You’ll be fighting for a share of limited charitable giving, so don’t make your efforts more difficult by taking up a cause that another group has already embraced. Both the group and the cause itself would likely suffer.

Next, make sure interest is sufficient and funding is locked in. Ensure that the resources and support for your initiative are in place and that your plan of action is clearly outlined. This will help convince potential donors you’re a good candidate for their contributions, which most people don’t give out easily. In the long term, nonprofits need business plans that minimize operating costs to ensure sustainable organizations. Getting your group to that next step isn’t easy, but the benefits are tangible.

Make a Nonprofit Pivot

If transitioning your group to a nonprofit seems like a good fit, these to-do items will help make the process as smooth as possible.

1. Network as much as you can. Your nonprofit’s effect is only as strong as the people advocating for it. Make sure as many influential people know about it and talk it up as possible.

Take an active approach to networking. If you attend an event such as an NGO conference, think of questions ahead of time and share your plans with your organization. Whenever possible, get feedback from people who are already well-established in your group’s field of interest to figure out the best course of action.

2. Research regulations. Regulatory requirements may sound like a chore, but you’ll need to know how they work to understand the legal side of the transition to a nonprofit. Regulations are not only complex and different from state to state, but they’re also constantly changing.

Even though you’re passionate about your group’s subject matter, consider taking a class at a local college to get the most up-to-date guidance on your specific situation and how to get any compliance issues squared away. Setting up your nonprofit only to find it doesn’t comply with certain legalities isn’t the best way to get it off the ground.

3. Work with an accountant. Embrace the first lesson of nonprofits, and get ready to get lean. Utilize an accountant or financial advisor, and make sure that person has experience working with nonprofits.

These professionals identify specific steps a nonprofit will need to take in order to best protect itself financially. For instance, not-for-profits should create a statement of financial position instead of a traditional balance statement, or a statement of activities detailing revenue and expenses instead of an income statement.

Fundamentally, nonprofits are created to meet specific societal needs. If your group has the drive and resources to merit pursuing the advantages afforded to a nonprofit, take these steps to heart and take your cause to the next level.

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Entertainment

The Y Wants Everyone to Take a #SelfieWithSomeoneNew

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Today, the YMCA of the USA (Y-USA) is launching a new social media campaign, #SelfieWithSomeoneNew. Inspired by the Y’s new “Us” national campaign creative, #SelfieWithSomeoneNew is an opportunity to highlight how the Y uniquely brings people together. To help raise awareness for the campaign, the Y will partner with long-time member and supporter, actor Ethan Hawke.

Photo Credit: (YMCA of the USA)

The Y is encouraging people to meet someone new, strike up a conversation and discover what they have in common, then, take a selfie and post it to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #SelfieWithSomeoneNew and tag @YMCA.

Whether it’s a new neighbor down the street, a parent at your child’s school or a person you see every day on your commute home, the Y hopes people will take a few extra moments to get to know one another in order to build a stronger, more connected community.

To encourage participation, the Y is partnering with Oscar-nominated actor, Ethan Hawke, a long-time Y member and former Y camper. To help drive momentum, Hawke will be taking a selfie with someone new at his local Y while encouraging others to do the same.

“I am excited to support the Y and help shine a light on the work they do,” said Hawke. “They are so much more than a gym. They create community. I started going to the Y as kid when my parents didn’t know what to do with me all summer. Since then, the Y has been a staple in my life; my refuge when I am an out of work actor, or the place that has taught my children to swim. I hope we can raise awareness about everything the Y does in communities all over the country.”

Because of the Y, people who may not have met otherwise, come together, whether they are kids in an afterschool enrichment program, adults in a cancer survivorship group or families volunteering. These are natural and easy ways for people to find commonality and even unity among perceived differences.

“For more than 160 years, the Y has brought people together – no matter their differences – and helped build stronger, more connected communities,” said Kevin Washington, President and CEO, Y-USA. “#SelfieWithSomeoneNew is a great way to illustrate how we can all take small, but meaningful steps towards unity with something as simple as a photo.”

The Y is one of the nation’s leading nonprofits strengthening communities through youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. Across the U.S., 2,700 Ys engage 22 million men, women and children – regardless of age, income or background – to nurture the potential of children and teens, improve the nation’s health and well-being, and provide opportunities to give back and support neighbors. Anchored in more than 10,000 communities, the Y has the long-standing relationships and physical presence not just to promise, but to deliver, lasting personal and social change. ymca.net

For more information on how to participate in the Y’s #SelfieWithSomeoneNew campaign and to learn more about the Y’s “For a better us.” campaign, visit ymca.net/forabetterus.

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Disability

How Disability Culture Can Inform Mentoring Girls with Disabilities

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Photo Credit: Big Sister Association

I am a social work intern at the Big Sister Association of Boston. This is a unique organization, as it is the only gender-specific branch of Big Brother Big Sister in the United States. This is also an important fact as research suggests that girls experience mentoring relationships differently than boys do.

Additionally, research suggests that girls have gender-specific needs that can best be addressed by gender-sensitive support. One of the values of the Big Sister Association of Boston is cultural responsiveness, as the agency finds it important to learn about and embrace cultural differences – and this is where Disability culture comes in.

Disability social workers Romel Mackelprang and Richard Salsgiver discuss the emergence of Disability culture and assert that it is not only an identity but a ‘way of life,’ similar to race or ethnicity. I feel that it is critical that when conceptualizing how to be cultural responsive that Big Sister mentors keep Disability in mind as a type of culture. Recognizing Disability culture is important because we work with Little Sisters ages seven through twenty, as well as volunteer Big Sisters over the age of eighteen, and any of these girls and women may have a disability.

In addition to being aware of the language and history of Disability culture in order to show respect, we must also understand that there is a community aspect of Disability culture that can have great social benefits for the people we work with. The goal of our mentoring program is to strategically match girls with mentors who have similar interests and experiences as them. Therefore, making an effort to match girls and mentors with disabilities can have the added benefit of sharing an understanding of a common experience and culture, therefore making the match relationship even more impactful.

In their book, Romel Mackelprang and Richard Salsgiver share the story of Carolyn and Marnie, two women who met and “developed a sisterhood formed from shared circumstances….their self-concepts and meanings they ascribed to their disabilities were similar.” Further, the authors note that Carloyn and Marnie had “few or no role models with disabilities, their disabilities were defined as negative, shameful…were isolated from others like themselves.”

The concepts of sisterhood and community are two more of the Big Sister Association of Boston’s values, and increased confidence is an outcome goal held by the program. As the relationship between women can be so powerful, it is important that Big Sister staff recognize this potential and thoughtfully seek to make matches between women and girls who share experiences as people with disabilities.

Big Sister Association of Boston values gender-specific programming, and it is important that this specificity carries over when thinking even further about what it means to not only be a girl, but to the intersection of being a girl with a disability in our society.

One way that Big Sister staff can work on developing knowledge about Disability culture as it relates to girls could be perusing the Gimp Girl website. As a refresher, the Georgetown Health Policy Institute defines cultural competence as “the ability of providers and organizations to effectively deliver health care services that meet the social, cultural, and linguistic needs of patients.”

The Gimp Girl website can be used as a resource for Big Sister staff to assist them in the task of continuously working on their cultural competence by becoming fully informed about the views and needs of girls with disabilities in particular. As a non-disabled person, I have permission to access articles and presentations on the site and join their online public forums. The website also includes links to many blogs written by and for girls with disabilities, which can raise awareness of the most current issues and interests of this particular community.

Tuning into Gimp Girl can help me practice cultural responsiveness by making me aware of the issues and concerns of interest to this population in order to most effectively meet the needs of girls with disabilities in a respectful and accessible way. Realizing that some people might prefer the term ‘gimp’ to the term ‘disabled’ might be important for Big Sister staff to realize vis-à-vis the debate between whether to use person first or disability first language.

The website will also help staff to practice cultural humility by reminding them that girls with disabilities have distinct and individual needs, as they describe what it means to experience the intersection of gender identity and disability. Reading about girls’ varying experiences will encourage Big Sister staff to consistently check their own biases and assumptions as well as maintain their position as learners when interacting with girls.

In addition to increasing any given Big Sister staff members’ knowledge and awareness about Disability culture, staff will also be able to share this website with Little Sisters if they are not familiar with it. Our agency constantly provides Big Sisters with information, resources, and activities they can use when spending time with their ‘Littles,’ and this website could be a great resource.

Big Sisters could explore the website with their Littles to find blogs that their Littles can relate to, or even help Littles join a Support Meeting in the online chat room. I think this resource is something that can benefit all of our staff and the girls and women we serve – and perhaps this will be true for you as well!

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News

NBC Nightly News Headline on the American Red Cross is Deeply Misleading

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Photo Credit: @Redcross Twitter

Recently, NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt headlined a story entitled “American Red Cross Fails to Pay Funds Promised to Many Harvey Victims”. The report discussed the failure of the American Red Cross to disburse funding to the victims of Hurricane Harvey. As a volunteer with Red Cross, this report raised my concerns for several reasons, and I immediately contacted them in order gain some insight into the causes preventing the Red Cross from distributing emergency funding.

According to the American Red Cross website, the primary function of the charity is “providing relief to victims of disaster, blood to hospital patients, health, and safety training to the public, or emergency social services to U.S. military families.” For more information on how the American Red Cross spends its donations, you can visit their website. After speaking with staff, I am now able to provide some clarity on the issues causing the delay with the disbursements.

Website Crashed

The website crashed from the 1 million displaced people trying to access it (plus repeat tries). Not only is the Red Cross attempting to aid those displaced by Hurricane Harvey, they are also handling an equally major crisis in Florida due to Hurricane Irma. Both Hurricanes have left a destabilized communications infrastructure with limited wifi and cell phone access in which to process aid. Everyone in flood areas is also still fighting the shaky access and embattled communication infrastructure in place. Many residents were showing up at the Red Cross HQ in hopes of gaining connectivity through the Red Cross. Unfortunately, the office has been experiencing the same connectivity issues.

Headlines about “High Overhead” feed into Confusion for Donors

When donors don’t understand that upgrading systems and IT staff, hiring volunteer coordinators and trainers, and other administrative staff duties are necessary to make it possible to handle 1 million plus displaced victims in multiple disasters at the same time, it breeds confusion and misinformation. The American Red Cross is not a governmental agency, but it is responsible for the bulk of relief efforts when a disaster happens. With Congress continuous cuts to FEMA, the American Red Cross will not be able to continue mass scale relief if they are denied donor support due to misinformation. This is a dangerous way to share information about life-saving charities. Without the American Red Cross, who else is equipped to handle natural disasters on this scale?

Emergency Funding

The $400 funds allocation from the Red Cross is an attempt to fill the gap that insurance and governmental delays create for desperate families. However, the reality is that it is dangerous to have volunteers standing on street corners handing out cash. However, this crisis may help the Red Cross identify innovative ways to distribute funds to help expedite funding to families. Currently, funds are being distributed to local centers like Wal-Mart for a more orderly disbursement. However, each disbursement center in affected areas is also still dealing with their own infrastructure issues.

At the end of the day, the American Red Cross is an organization run by 90% plus volunteers working at least 15 hours per day in harsh conditions because they want to help others. More paid employees would help with consistency and efficiency (deployments are only weeks long), but it would also create higher overhead in which donors don’t want.

With all of the disaster pile-ons we are experiencing with even more looming in the distance, we need to take a good look at our charities and how we expect them to function like a governmental agency or corporation while relying on donor support. How does the Red Cross run operations that cover a million people in a single disaster without the funding to hire people at salaries that will attract those with the talent and the willingness to risk such public scrutiny?

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Business

How to Grow Your Nonprofit With Little Budget

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It should come as no surprise that devoting time to a cause can be fulfilling. When you start one of your own, you will transform your life.

But establishing a nonprofit to take up said crusade comes with lots of barriers, namely financial. Traditional businesses often must figure out where the money will come from to make their vision a reality, and nonprofits are no different.

For nonprofit leaders with know-how and ideas but scarce financial capital, it’s an uphill battle. But it’s those who recognize their new nonprofits’ non-monetary value and how to translate that into viability who can bring those causes to fruition.

A Little Marketing Goes a Long Way

What nonprofits lack in budget, they more than make up for in positioning and branding. Organizations can mask their financial shortcomings by properly marketing each themselves and spotlighting who they are and what they can do.

That starts with communicating your purpose or company “brand.” Identifying your brand lets people know who you are and what you can do for others, which can go a long way in creating long-term relationships. From there, you want to avoid potential conflicts of interest or even the appearance of one: As owner, officer, or director, you should never personally profit from any transaction with your organization.

Once you’ve settled those things, you can market your nonprofit to its fullest potential. The next step is to take those attributes to events and platforms that feature opportunities to rub elbows with financiers with values similar to your own.

For nonprofits with limited funds, I suggest looking to corporations to sponsor a campaign. Dress for Success, for example, held a “clean your closet week” by asking professionals to donate clothing, and the campaign generated $400,000.

And when you find an actual sponsor, it can be a useful way to find other organizations that align with your mission. Let’s say you connect with a corporation known to work with homeless youth. It’ll have relationships with many other corporations that work with this same service sector, which can establish a ripple effect.

Do Good on a Discount

Outside of knowing how to sell your cause, the following tips are useful to help your growing nonprofit continue to scale:

1. Think intangible. When you’re on a tight budget and don’t have money to involve your nonprofit in initiatives requiring a cash investment, start off by marketing non-financial resources, such as your time and industry knowledge.

Not only will it provide your organization some much-needed exposure, but it’ll also give you and your other teammates a better idea of the work involved and a brief overview of your chosen nonprofit sector. Plus, it’s not a bad way to make connections.

2. Give in to the youth movement. Look for volunteers at area high schools. Talk with the local school councils and ask whether it’d be possible to create a partnership that would allow teens to volunteer for a school credit or as an extracurricular activity.

Position the volunteer opportunity as a way for teenagers to prepare for the future. After all, volunteering improves not just communities, but also participants’ social and communication skills. In fact, they often reap better advantages at college and on down the line.

3. See how the pros do it. Follow the activities of larger nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations. Check with international organizations like the United Nations; you may find opportunities for involvement and gain access to their funding pool.

Take NeedsList, for example. The online platform was created to help small grassroots groups connect with NGOs across the world in need of shoes, SD cards, and other supplies. Donors can choose to donate goods, money, or time, which brings us full circle.

As the adage goes, it’s not what you know but whom. No other sector exemplifies this more than nonprofit. For foundations on a shoestring budget, make connections, think about what you have to offer, and deliver on your purpose each step of the way. Then, you can let your personal transformation begin.

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Education

How to Get Rid of Your Student Loan Debt While Working at a Nonprofit

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student loans

All across the country, graduates are taking advantage of various loan repayment programs to help lower their monthly payments and improve their lives. If you plan to work for a nonprofit or in the public sector, it’s smart to explore all of the loan repayment options in front of you – including loan forgiveness.

When Michelle Argento graduated college with $25,000 in student loans, she knew the path forward wouldn’t be easy. As a music education major with little earning potential, she was right to worry about her new $290 monthly payment.

Fortunately, Argento started learning about the federal income-driven repayment programs available right away. And once she qualified for Income-Based Repayment (IBR), she watched her new payment shrink to just $27 per month.

While Argento’s situation has changed over the years, she still benefits on a sliding scale. A marriage and a toddler later, she and her husband pay $350 per month towards their $40,000 in combined student loans. If the couple were on the Standard Repayment Plan, she would owe more like $690 per month, she said.

Instead, the $340 per month they save has meant less stress and more opportunity.

“Having been on IBR for now six years, I have never, ever felt crushed or overwhelmed by my loans,” said Argento. “That flexibility also means being able to take risks in my career by moving to owning my own business, being able to splurge a bit on experiences such as traveling to Europe, and considering going back to school while continuing paying down debt.”

The icing on the cake, however, is that income-driven repayment plans like IBR will forgive any remaining after 20-25 years of payments (assuming there’s any debt left over). The only downside is that once the debt is forgiven, you’re on the hook for income taxes on that amount that same tax year.

Of course, IBR isn’t the only income-driven plan out there. Borrowers can also benefit from plans such as Pay As You Earn (PAYE), Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE), and Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR). While each plan works in its own unique way, they all base your monthly payments on your discretionary income and eventually lead to student loan forgiveness.

By and large, income-driven repayment plans were created for graduates just like Argento – people with large amounts of debt and lower-than-average earnings. That’s why many people who work at nonprofits flock to income-driven repayment plans; instead of struggling to afford huge monthly payments, they can enjoy reasonable out-of-pocket expenses and continue working in jobs that let them give back.

Another Option: Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)

In addition to income-driven repayment, students interested in working for the public good can look into Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF).

With PSLF, graduates can have their student loans forgiven after working in a qualified public service position and making 120 consecutive payments on their loans. Payments made after October 1, 2007 qualify and the first round of PSLF participants will receive forgiveness beginning this October.

Ginger, a psychotherapist who blogs at Girls Just Wanna Have Funds, uses PSLF to make her student loan payments bearable. Thanks to the reasonable loan payment she has achieved through PSLF, Ginger figures she’ll save 15 years of payments and at least $100,000 on interest if she sticks with it.

And she should. Unlike other income-driven plans that require you to pay taxes on forgiven debt, PSLF wipes your slate entirely clean. If Ginger is able to stay on her current program for 10 consecutive years, she’ll have zero debt – and no trace of a tax bill – once it’s over.

Although she’ll need to work in public service the entire time, this is a huge benefit for her and others like her to look forward to.

Picking a Repayment Plan

With the right plan, you can settle on a monthly payment you can actually afford and move on with your life. Here are some steps that can help:

Step 1: Explore loan forgiveness options. While we touched on the main loan forgiveness programs in this article, you should research more on each before you sign up. There are also many state- and school-based repayment and forgiveness programs. Check out this comprehensive guide on forgiveness programs to find the right fit.

Step 2: Consider your long-term career plans. While income-driven repayment and PSLF can drastically reduce your monthly payments now, that can change quickly if your income surges or your career changes course. Before you sign up, consider how your future decisions might affect your loan payments.

Step 3: Determine how comfortable you are with debt. While loan forgiveness programs can lower your monthly payment and lead to total debt forgiveness, they also leave you in debt for a longer stretch of time. If you don’t like the idea of debt, you might be better off making extra payments and paying off your loans early instead.

Step 4: Sign up for a plan and stick with it. If you decide you’re okay with debt as long as it’s eventually forgiven, you’re a good candidate for loan forgiveness plans. To get the most out of them, however, you should stay the course and see them to the end. Ten to 25 years might seem like a long time, but it will be worth it when you’re finally debt-free.

If you’re worried how you’ll handle your loans as a non-profit worker, it’s smart to explore all of these opportunities to see if one might fit your needs.

With the right repayment plan, you could score an affordable monthly payment and complete forgiveness in the end. If you’re in debt and struggling, that’s the best thing you can hope for.

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