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Asking for more: Negotiating salary with your next (or current) nonprofit employer

Written by: Marc Schultz
Published on: Jul 1, 2024

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(Image: Breeze393)

Embarking on a conversation about salary can feel like navigating uncharted waters. The fact is that compensation policies can vary widely from organization to organization, depending on a range of factors that include the nonprofit’s size and sophistication, their cause area, and where they are in the nonprofit “lifecycle.” 

But there are clear signs to look for when charting a course, and the age-old adage still applies: It never hurts to ask. 

To ready yourself for an effective ask, check this collection of strategies.

Understand your subsector.

Each cause area within the nonprofit world – think medical nonprofits, arts and culture, education, or social service – has a different approach to budgeting salaries and setting pay ranges for specific kinds of roles. For instance, a medical nonprofit may have a different budget structure and negotiation process for a fundraising position compared to an arts and culture organization.

Research and benchmark.

One of the first steps in preparing for salary negotiations is to conduct thorough research. Many nonprofits now disclose salary ranges in job descriptions, but you can also utilize public records such as Form 990 to gauge the organization's pay scale. (Candid keeps most 990s in an easy-to-search database.) Check the executive staff compensations as recorded in your (potential) employer’s 990, as well as in those of peer organizations – those of a similar size, cause area, and location – to help you calibrate your expectations and give you some facts to bring to a discussion.

Know your worth – and your bottom line.

Entering negotiations with a clear understanding of your market value and financial bottom line is crucial. Assess your skills, experience, and qualifications relative to the position and industry standards. (Unsure of your worth? Treat yourself to some self-assessment!) At the same time, be sure you understand your needs in the form of a lowest acceptable offer.

Highlighting your unique skills, accomplishments, and value proposition can strengthen your negotiation position. Showcase how your contributions align with the organization's mission and objectives, emphasizing the impact you can make in the role. This approach can demonstrate why investing in your compensation is a smart move. Above all, don't agree to a salary lower than what you are willing to accept.

Start the conversation early.

If numbers haven’t been listed in a job posting, don’t be afraid to ask up front for the salary range they expect to pay, the organization’s flexibility in negotiating pay, and the possibility for raises in the future. Of course, you don’t want to get too far in depth at the outset – just enough to align your expectations and avoid wasting anyone’s time.

Understand the limits and explore alternative compensation.

It's also essential to understand that budgetary constraints may stand in the way of your needs, particularly at smaller organizations with limited financial resources. Some nonprofits may have strict salary bands or policies in place to ensure fairness and equity across roles, leaving little room for negotiation.

In addition to base salary, consider exploring other aspects of compensation, such as benefits, professional development opportunities, flexible work arrangements, or performance-based incentives. Because nonprofits know that they are often outmatched by the for-profit sector in terms of salary, they often strive to offer benefits that can enhance the overall compensation package.

If you're aiming for a higher salary range, demonstrate through interviews and discussions that your qualifications justify a position beyond the standard band. This may involve negotiating a higher-level title or showcasing the need for a larger role within the organization.

Be transparent and collaborative – and don’t burn bridges.

Approach negotiations with transparency and a collaborative mindset. Clearly communicate your expectations, but stay receptive to the organization's limitations and priorities. Negotiate in a manner that fosters mutual respect and a positive working relationship moving forward, whether you end up accepting an offer or not. You never know who that hiring manager might be talking to – but it could be someone at your next big opportunity.

Remember, every negotiation is unique, and finding the right balance between advocacy and collaboration is key to reaching a conclusion that works for you and your employer.

Marc Schultz is communications editor at Work for Good.

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