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The deceptive reality of commission-only "full-time" positions

Challenging the Norms of Commission-Based Employment in the Non-Profit sector

Recently, my LinkedIn feed and inbox have been inundated with new business development and fundraising opportunities on a commission-only basis at both new and established non-profit organisations. As a professional freelance consultant working in the non-profit space for over 15 years, I consistently find myself explaining to hiring managers why I choose not to engage in such arrangements despite the offerings of high commission structures. My reasoning is simple: it contradicts my core principles and values.

However, what troubles me deeply is the prevalent trend of roles being advertised as "full-time positions" while offering nothing but high commission-based earnings with no basic salary. This deceptive practice is not only disrespectful to the workforce but also blatant exploitation of professionals seeking to secure a meaningful income. One has to ask: how do governance, transparency, and attracting and retaining top talent fit into this equation?

The Illusion: ‘You can determine your salary speech’

I've come across job postings demanding candidates with extensive experience, networks, and qualifications that would normally warrant a salary ranging from R50k to R60k per month. However, these roles offer nothing but the promise of an attractive commission-based plan. The rationale behind this commission-only approach is often the assumption that earning potential could surpass market-related salaries—a notion I find utterly ludicrous. Securing new business, funding, and resources takes considerable time and effort, making this justification for commission-only compensation unrealistic and impractical

Worse yet, these listings come with outrageous job descriptions and expectations that would require more than one person to do the work. While the combination of a basic salary and commission is common in sales, the boldness to want to leverage someone's intellectual property, skills, networks, and expertise without offering decent remuneration is not only disrespectful but outright exploitative.

Moreover, setting up meetings with consultants and interviews with potential candidates under the guise of seeking their services and or skills, only to extract ideas, leads, and strategies, is yet another form of exploitation. While we remain passionate about our work and the non-profit industry, some organisations can dim our light in terms of trust – leaving us to question their HR practices and reputational integrity or lack thereof.

These practices erode trust, and in a country like South Africa, where unemployment is high and where social and economic disparities are stark, such exploitation only exacerbates existing inequalities.

Change in Mindset – Changes the Outcome

The unemployed, freelance, and consultancy workforce should not be seen as a pool of available resources to fill the gaps and be exploited. We are professionals with families, responsibilities, and aspirations who choose to work in this sector to serve and make a difference – not to work for free. Time, travel, data, internet connection, and technology amongst others are all resources that incur costs.

We need a mindset shift within the South African non-profit workforce. Value shouldn't only be measured in compensation; it should also recognise the people and their contributions. Viewing low salaries in the sector as a positive aspect isn't a high-value trait – this perspective needs to change. When people are valued, they become invested in your mission.  If your budget doesn't allow for fair compensation, it's better to refrain from hiring altogether.

While commission-based roles can complement a fair compensation package, they shouldn't be the sole basis for employment, especially when the job demands warrant a stable income.

It's time to reassess the approach to hiring. To the HR departments, leaders and hiring managers: I urge you to reconsider your tactics and how you engage with potential candidates and or consultants. To those seeking to earn a meaningful income in the non-profit space, be firm in your stance and value your skills and the impact of your work and contributions.

Let’s make doing good even better!

Photo Credit:,  licensed under Creative Commons.

Shameemah Jahed

With a foundation built on qualifications in Public Relations, Event Management, and Business Management, Shameemah brings over twenty-five years of diverse work experience spanning the corporate, B2B, and non-profit sectors. Throughout her career, she has been at the forefront of relationship management, project leadership, and strategy development. Her non-profit career track record includes successfully raising millions in fundraising and sponsorship, resource mobilisation, and developing long-term strategic partnerships on both national and international fronts. She currently focuses on providing consultancy services and training services in the non-profit sector, specialising in fundraising, project support, and partnership cultivation. For more information, email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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