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Nonprofit HR’s Blog

You’ve heard it so often, it’s become cliché: nonprofit staff are overworked and underpaid. For this reason, the nonprofit workforce is viewed by some as morally superior on the basis that these employees (as compared with other workers) “don’t do it for the money.” Now, there are a few issues with this notion. One being the idea that no one outside the nonprofit sector particularly likes their job. More importantly, though, is the assumption that the sheer joy of the work means that these nonprofit employees don’t need the money.

Of course they do.

Everyone needs the money. We all have bills and commitments, dreams and aspirations. Living in a capitalist society means that we must pay to play. Everyone’s financial circumstances are different, yes, but to quote young professional Cortney Harding, “It’s really untenable to think that the only people who can be professional activists are people with wealthy parents or personal wealth.”

So how do you pursue a mission-focused career without sacrificing your quality of life? Negotiate.

And here are some tips to get started:

Calculate Your Target Salary

It’s difficult and can feel a bit “icky” to put a dollar amount on your value as an employee, but employers are going to do it for you, so you may as well know before they do. You can use tools like payscale.com, glassdoor.com or a local salary survey to get a feel for what employees in similar positions and/or at similar organizations are being compensated.

Put it In Context

Once you have a number (or range) for your target salary, you must contextualize it to your own individual circumstance. Payscale.com does a certain amount of contextualizing when running the calculation by asking for details like your geographic location, years of experience, other benefits offered and size and type of employer. You can further get a sense for where you fall by considering your performance reviews, tenure, organization’s budget size and other relevant data you might have available.

Start the Conversation

When and how the conversation about compensation happens depends significantly on why you are having it. Are you negotiating your salary for a new role either within or outside your current organization? Or are you feeling like your current rewards package isn’t meeting your needs/expectations for the position you are already in?

If you are going into a new contract, you are in a better position to negotiate. Since the employer made an offer, you know that they want you in the role and will be willing to be somewhat flexible to get you and not their second choice. If you find that you want to negotiate above the original offer, be ambitious, but reasonable, in your counter. Know that smaller organizations will not have as much wiggle room to design creative rewards packages tailored specifically to your needs.

When negotiating for a compensation adjustment in a position you currently hold, you need to build a business case. This means doing extensive research on what similar professionals are being compensated in comparable organizations in your region. Additionally, you will want to make the argument that recruiting and retaining competitive talent requires competitive compensation. If you have the data, look for where former employees have gone to work after leaving your current organization or where prospective employees have taken offers from over your organization. This is your competition for talent and you will want to convince your manager that comparable rewards will better serve the mission by helping to attract and keep great employees. 

If your organization needs a complete compensation or rewards audit, let us know!

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