6 Tips for Negotiating Salary at a Nonprofit

Weigh ‘Need vs Greed’ When Negotiating Salary at a Nonprofit

Nonprofits are a Different Animal

When you’re an employee at MegaCorp and the CEO travels to the shareholder meeting in his private jet to announce that they’ve exceeded Q4 revenue predictions by $200 million, it’s not too difficult to look at the company’s success, negotiate hard for a raise, and say “How about a little something for me?”

But what happens when you work for a nonprofit and you’re not dealing with mergers and acquisitions, but rather microfinance loans to empower women or access to clean drinking water in developing nations?

A reader named Mari recently asked that question after taking my online negotiation course:

“I’m applying for nonprofit entry level positions and the idea of negotiating salary seems entirely greedy and heartless. Is there some way to negotiate salary and benefits (perhaps additional paid time off?) without coming across as ‘stealing more money away from the cause’?”

It’s a question I’ve seen often, and working for a nonprofit definitely comes with its own set of challenges, especially trying to negotiate salary without coming off as greedy. Here are six things to consider.

6. It’s All Relative

It’s a known fact that some industries pay more than others. No matter how good you get at negotiation, if you have your heart set on being a kindergarten teacher, a city social worker, or a project manager at a nonprofit, there’s a much lower chance you’ll be paid as well as your college friends that are now investment bankers, attorneys, or software engineers.

The one thing you want to avoid however, is being underpaid relative to your co-workers around you and in the industry. For example, let’s say you interview at a nonprofit and are offered a management position for $36,000 – is that a good offer or not? While it’s easy to feel bad about yourself compared to your sister the Radiation Therapy Dosimetrist (median salary: $100,000), that’s the wrong approach.

The correct answer is, it’s probably a good offer if other managers at the organization with similar experience to you are in the $35-$40k range, and the pay at competing nonprofits in your city are in that range as well. By tactfully negotiating, your goal is to at least get to the top of a given range at the position you’re going for — pushing that $36k offer closer to $40,000.

However, if all your research says that someone with your skills and experience is being compensated in the mid to high $40’s, you’ll want to dig a bit deeper.

5. Times Might be Changing

While we probably won’t see a lot of cases where nonprofits suddenly hand out free iPad Minis to all 3,500 employees like LinkedIn did this year, there are signs that companies are getting a little less tight with their purse strings.

“We’re seeing this trend lately with nonprofits,” said Belinda Morris, Founder and Principal Consultant of Peoplescape Consulting, a company that delivers Human Resources consulting and Executive Search services to leaders of small and medium sized businesses in Southern California. “For the longest time, nonprofit organizations have been run with understaffed teams and volunteers working for free. Now they’re realizing they’re not getting the cutting edge skills they need to succeed. They understand that in order to take their nonprofits to the next level, they need to invest in attracting higher end talent, which allows them to help others better.”

4. Examine Executive Pay

One benefit when doing your salary research: The law requires nonprofits to publicly disclose salaries for certain positions. A trip over to Salary.com’s Executive Compensation Wizard can help with this.

Sites like CharityNavigator.com have a list of 10 Highly-Rated Charities with Low Paid CEOs that earn between $50,000-$60,000, But they also highlight 10 Highly Paid CEOs at Low-Rated Charities, earning between $250,000 and half a million. The average salary for the top official in their top 10 most followed charities is approximately $420,000.

Once again, it’s all relative. When looking at these numbers, make sure to note the salary as a percentage of expenses and consider the scope of the job. For example, while the CEO of the American Red Cross earned $591,000 in 2012, consider that this was 0.01% of expenses, and the position requires managing $3 billion in funds and overseeing more than 1,000,000 volunteers and 30,000 employees.

3. Ask for Benefits

As Mari suggested, if the salary just isn’t there, explore what other non-monetary perks might be available to employees. This could be additional vacation time, educational training, a better title, access to mentors, attendance at conferences, etc.

2. Find a Side Hustle

If it’s apparent you’ll never get rich from your full time nonprofit, don’t frustrate yourself by complaining about something you can’t change. Instead, find a niche or something you enjoy on the side that can bring in additional income.

Sure, it can be something unrelated that brings in cash like waiting tables or a weekend retail job, but a better option might be leveraging the skills you have in other, more lucrative ways. For example, if your main position is teaching at a public high school, you might build a side business offering private consulting that helps students complete their college entrance essays.

1. Adopt the Right Mindset

Just because you’re working for a good cause, doesn’t mean you have to take on a vow of poverty yourself. It’s the old “oxygen mask” theory…you need to take care of yourself first in order to best help others.

If an organization is able to pay you a fair wage so that you do not have to constantly worry about paying your bills and making ends meet, then you are better equipped to put 100% of your effort into your work and helping others.

When negotiating, Morris suggests phrasing your negotiation as follows:

“In the big picture, salary is not the most important thing for me here. What matters most is seeing that our values are aligned in terms of what the organization is trying to accomplish, and that’s why I’m so excited at the opportunity to work here. However, I need to feel I’m being fairly valued. I believe that for organizations to achieve their goals and truly do the best for their cause, they need to invest in the best people. I feel I have so much to offer and can really make a large contribution here, so I need to be recognized for the skills that I will be contributing, and for working so hard for something I believe in.”

Salary.com Can Help You Negotiate

It doesn’t matter if you’re applying for a nonprofit job or in the private sector — salary negotiation is still vital. Luckily, Salary.com can help.

The first thing you should do is research, so you’re able to come to the table armed with the knowledge of what your job is worth. Use our free Salary Wizard below to find out what’s a fair salary for your position. You can enter your location, education level, years of experience and more to find out an appropriate salary range before you negotiate.

Good luck.

Related Salary.com Content