In the lobby of The Door, a Manhattan-based social service agency for young people, a teen wore a hoodie and a frown—but broke into a smile when an intake counselor arrived.
And smiles could be seen all around during a tour of the agency given by its deputy executive director, David Vincent, PhD. To even the critical observer, it would seem that the people who work at The Door like their jobs.
The job satisfaction at The Door exemplifies the findings in Vincent’s dissertation, “Commitment to Social Justice and its Influence on Job Satisfaction and Retention of Nonprofit Middle Managers.” He is graduating with a doctorate in social work from the Graduate School of Social Service(GSS).
In a survey of 38 New York-area nonprofit settlement houses, Vincent asked middle managers to rate their awareness of social justice issues and examined how that awareness affected job satisfaction. He found that when managers’ social justice sensitivity aligned with the mission of the organization, their job satisfaction was high, as was job retention.
“When the baby boomers begin to retire, there’s going to be a big gap in the managerial pipeline at nonprofits, so we need to understand what makes employees happy,” said Vincent, who teaches in the leadership track at Fordham as an adjunct professor of social work. “Middle managers are future leaders, so we need to ask how we can help them be better leaders, and what kind of professional development do they need.”
Vincent’s journey into nonprofit work began during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, when many of his friends were dying. He volunteered and worked with HIV-positive youth, and felt like he was making a difference. Vincent later moved to Boston and began working with homeless youth, for which authenticity was essential. “They have to trust you, and you have to meet them where they’re at.”
After returning to New York to work as associate executive director at Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, Vincent met Sandra Turner, PhD, a GSS professor and board member at Callen-Lorde who encouraged him to pursue his doctoral degree at Fordham.
“I came here because I could go to school and still work a full-time job,” he said.
Vincent pursued his doctorate taking one or two classes at a time, motivated mainly by ideas of social justice.
Empathy has been key to his work, his research, and his life, he said. Vincent is a white man who helps lead an organization in which most employees are black or Hispanic and most clients are young people of color, so he strives to understand the challenges they face.
“When you work with underserved communities and you want to do your job well, you need to understand racism, and that it is systemic, and that those are the issues that many of your clients and many of your co-workers are dealing with,” he said. “To lead an organization, you have to ‘get’ social justice. You need to understand equity.”
His own upbringing was far from the American mainstream. He grew up in a working-class Portuguese community outside Boston, raised by first generation parents.
“We were very marginalized, so I knew what it was like to come from the lower end of the totem pole and not the dominant part that ruled society,” he said. “It’s just by the grace of God that I had wonderful, supportive parents.”