Case Study

Levels Toolkit, Wage Equity Audit

June 27, 2023
Minute Read
A faith-based youth violence prevention organization “(YVPO)”
Faith-based community outreach nonprofit
51-200 employees

Summary of Outcomes

  • YVPO has a clear understanding of how their staff’s compensation compares to market rates. They can offer a total compensation package that satisfies their employees because they had input in creating it.
  • YVPO has the information they need to correct minor pay inequities and prevent them in the future. Using the deliverables from our engagement, YVPO can make equitable compensation decisions with confidence and consistency.
  • YVPO’s department managers have a shared language for employee expectations and growth. They’ve taken ownership of a standardized process for performance reviews.
  • The whole team at YVPO has clarity on how staff can embody their core values every day. Expectations for growth and promotion are clearly defined and accessible to all employees so they can work with managers to set specific goals and advocate for their own career growth. 


YVPO is a faith-based nonprofit that supports youth through restorative justice, safe spaces, and initiatives like mentoring, education, sports, peacemaking, and wellness. Centering voices in the communities they serve is a top priority, and one of the ways they do this is by hiring staff and mentors directly from these communities.

As a mostly grant-funded nonprofit organization, YVPO focuses the majority of its resources on community programs rather than providing competitive salaries. However, employees advocated for the need for sustainable salaries that accounted for the labor, stress, and vitality of their contributions to these programs. The organization's leaders listened and sought to create an equitable compensation, leveling, and promotion process. 

YVPO cares deeply about their employees, and the team is highly dedicated to their shared values and mission. The organization engaged Ethos to conduct a Compensation Review to uncover internal and external pay inequities, develop a Standard Compensation Philosophy with direct input from employees, collaborate on values-driven advancement and performance review processes, and facilitate training sessions for managers to take ownership of these processes.


YVPO was determined to promote equity, trust, and solidarity among staff members at all levels of the organization with a focus on how the team can embody their shared values every day. We collaborated on the following objectives with these goals in mind:

  1. Conduct a Compensation Review to gain an understanding of staff’s compensation compared to market rates and uncover any internal pay gaps.
  2. Develop a Standard Compensation Philosophy and Proposed Pay Bands for employee roles at different levels. 
  3. Create a Levels Framework defining expectations and growth dimensions for employees in each role, in alignment with the Standard Compensation Philosophy.
  4. Train managers on implementing the Levels Framework, Employee Growth Plan, Progress Tracker, and other tools to facilitate equitable and engaging performance reviews.
  5. Develop a Job Description Template including pay ranges to become a pay transparency leader in the nonprofit sector.

Ethos Approach

YVPO began the engagement with an awareness that employees should be stakeholders in the compensation process, but they don’t usually get a seat at the table. Ethos’ philosophy of radical worker solidarity resonated with leaders at YVPO: we gather feedback on employee experiences directly from them so we can advocate for and prioritize their needs while we get other stakeholders and champions on board.

At a high level, this project was about creating equity and alignment between YVPO’s  compensation and advancement systems and the people using and maintaining them. We worked together to meaningfully blend the results of our Compensation Review, research on compensation data, and YVPO’s existing values to create completely customized solutions for their organization. 

To achieve these results, the Ethos team alternated between working with YVPO on big-picture items and working behind the scenes on data collection and validation, ensuring the engagement would gain purposeful momentum and efficiency throughout. We had access to robust data sets drawn from the market and conducted research interviews and working sessions with the YVPO team to better understand their needs and values. The final deliverables included recommendations and tools that address market expectations, employee needs, and organizational values.


  • Compensation Review including standardized Compensation Philosophy and Proposed Pay Bands
  • Levels Framework including levels of employee expectations, growth dimensions, compensation, and career growth resources
  • Employee Growth Plan Guide, Template, and Progress Tracker
  • Job Description Template

Compensation Review and Restructure

Because there is little pay transparency in the nonprofit world, creating salary benchmarks and pay bands posed a unique challenge. We reviewed job description responsibilities and created hybrid positions to craft custom recommendations for ideal pay bands across the organization. To bring employees into the process and gauge their priorities in a total compensation package, we sent out a quick and simple survey asking them to rank compensation components. Finally, we found some untapped opportunities for employee growth and internal promotion in YVPO’s  existing processes as well as a couple of points of inequity. We proposed corrections and educated the client on how these oversights can be manifestations of implicit bias, giving them tools and skills to be mindful of this in the future.

Levels Framework

The Levels Framework is a key site for creating internal pay equity and transparency because it shows how growth dimensions relate to differences in compensation. It includes a structure for how levels work, growth dimensions for performance measures that apply across all levels structures, and mechanisms that relate to performance feedback, promotions and raises, and overall talent development. In this particular engagement, we were able to incorporate YVPO’s values as overarching principles detailing the ways staff can embody them every day in their work. Together, the Levels Framework and Performance Feedback Tracker create a shared focal point for managers and individual contributors during performance reviews. When they’re used consistently, everyone should understand how compensation decisions are made and how that relates to their job. 

Employee Growth Plan and Tools

The Growth Plan Guide covers YVPO’s philosophy on professional development and advancement, defining the responsibilities of both employees and managers within these processes. It’s a resource to help employees grow in their roles, set goals to prepare for promotion, and advocate for their own advancement in partnership with managers. Finally, it includes a framework for goal setting to support managers in performance coaching. 

Perhaps one of the most far-reaching impacts of this engagement is that YVPO has the information, tools, and processes to lead the change for pay transparency in the nonprofit sector.


As a result of this engagement, YVPO can confidently offer their employees a more competitive salary, and they can continue to make more equitable compensation decisions with consistency moving forward. They have an overall better understanding of what their employees value in a total compensation package, including paid time off, benefits, and savings opportunities. From the employees’ perspective, the Levels Framework and Compensation Philosophy will provide a sense of security that they are being compensated fairly and adequately: everyone will have the resources to understand exactly how pay is determined.

In the course of collaborating with Ethos on the Levels Framework, YVPO’s  department managers developed a shared language for employee expectations and growth. They’ve taken ownership of the Growth Plan Guide and Growth Progress Tracker as part of a standardized process for performance reviews. Managers have all the resources they need for values-based performance coaching, and expectations for growth and promotion are clearly defined and accessible to all employees.

Perhaps one of the most far-reaching impacts of this engagement is that YVPO has the information, tools, and processes to lead the change for pay transparency in the nonprofit sector. Taking the initiative to determine what a competitive compensation package looks like for their organization and sharing that information openly can potentially influence others to practice pay transparency and lift the whole industry.


In our partnership to create these tools, YVPO and Ethos developed innovative solutions to not only retain the client’s current staff but also lay the foundation for more equitable compensation and experiences in the future. Leaders at YVPO  have shown they are willing to listen to their team’s concerns and make significant changes to retain loyal employees. We could see connections between staff members at different levels growing stronger throughout the engagement.

For YVPO, the investment to determine a competitive living wage and overhaul their compensation practices sets them apart as a leader for pay equity in the nonprofit space. Sharing salary ranges with job applicants will go a long way to start building trust early in the hiring process and hopefully encourage others in the nonprofit community to do the same.

Is your organization facing similar challenges? Check out our Wage Equity Assessment offering or get in touch with us to talk about creating a custom engagement. Let's find some time to chat!

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