The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Salary Negotiation
Whether you're stepping into the nonprofit sector for the first time (if that’s you, welcome!) or gearing up to negotiate a well-deserved raise, the Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Salary Negotiation is designed to empower you with valuable information that will help you to navigate the ins and outs of compensation conversations. And we’ll wrap it all up with the Idealist Nonprofit Salary Explorer, our free resource for navigating your social-impact career path and mapping out your earning potential.
Chapter 1: An Introduction to Nonprofit Salaries
Get ready to challenge assumptions, embrace possibilities, and navigate nonprofit salaries with confidence. The nonprofit sector isn’t just a destination; it's a vibrant journey filled with growth, change, and a world of opportunities. Let's start with the basics.
9 Myths About the the Nonprofit Sector, Debunked
From the notion that "No one makes any money in the nonprofit sector" to the belief that "The nonprofit sector is for private-sector rejects," we're shedding light on the facts and debunking the fiction. Let’s delve into 9 common myths, unveil the reality behind each, and gain a fresh understanding of nonprofit salaries, career trajectories, and what sets the nonprofit sector apart.
Myth #1. "Only rich kids need apply”
Or: "No one makes any money in the nonprofit sector."
The truth: Most nonprofits rely on volunteers in addition to paid staff.
The term "nonprofit" does not mean that nonprofit professionals don’t earn a salary. "Nonprofit" refers to the 501(c) tax code in the United States. Nongovernmental organization (NGO) and "charity" are terms commonly used outside the U.S.
Revenues generated by nonprofit organizations go back into programs and operations that serve the organizations' mission. There are no stockholders receiving annual financial dividends, and employees rarely receive a bonus at the end of a good year (although it is possible and legal!). According to Independent Sector, in 2022 nonprofits contributed $1.4 billion to the U.S. economy.
Myth #2. "The nonprofit sector is for private-sector rejects"
Or: "The nonprofit sector is for people who couldn't make it in the business world."
The truth: Nonprofit organizations are full of intelligent people with a passion for their work, many of whom hold bachelor’s and graduate degrees and years of experience across a multitude of sectors.
Many people switch between the nonprofit, government, and private sectors during their careers. Each line of work presents its own set of challenges, but there are many talented people in all three sectors.
Folks from the private sector who choose to sector-switch are often surprised to learn how difficult it is to make the transition into the nonprofit sector, which has different, rigorous standards of success.
Myth #3. "No upward mobility."
Or: "Working for a nonprofit is not really a career path."
The truth: Working in the nonprofit sector is sometimes considered to be a bit of a break from the "real world," implying that a nonprofit career isn’t a legitimate career. In reality, the nonprofit sector provides many people with a lifetime of exciting work. Nonprofits also tend to offer young people more leadership and growth opportunities than other sectors. In 2022, nonprofit employees made up 6.5 percent of the American workforce.
If you're considering a career in the social-impact sector and want to better understand your earning potential and career path, try our Nonprofit Salary Explorer (more on that later!).
Myth #4. "It's all smiles, all the time."
Or: "Everyone that works in the nonprofit sector is nice."
The truth: While most of the people who work in the nonprofit sector care about making the world a better place, so do plenty of people that don't work in the nonprofit sector. Don't be surprised when you encounter difficult personalities, big egos, and office politics; these things can exist in any professional environment. Perhaps a higher percentage of like-hearted people work in the nonprofit sector, but there is no way to measure this, and there are plenty of exceptions.
Myth #5. "Get ready to coast."
Or: "The nonprofit sector is not competitive."
The truth: In a world of limited resources, nonprofit organizations compete intensely for media attention, recognition, talented staff, funding, and other resources.
In some cases, competition among organizations with similar missions may be detrimental to the pursuit of this shared mission, but competition also can be healthy, and a catalyst for collaboration as well as the adoption of more efficient programs.
While some organizations provide similar services and compete to be the service provider, other organizations work on toward different solutions to a similar problem.
Myth #6. "Wasting time and money."
Or: "Nonprofit organizations are inefficient."
The truth: Nonprofit organizations do not usually have clear bottom lines or profit margins; serving a human or environmental need makes success and efficiency much more difficult to measure.
Add to that the reality of limited resources and an emphasis on serving beneficiaries and clients, and it becomes clear why the sector may be perceived as inefficient.
Of course, some organizations are bound to be inefficient and disorganized (just as we see plenty of dysfunctional for-profit companies), but we also need to take into account measurement and analysis practices that may be new to us. For example, measuring impact and success through a survey is fairly common in the nonprofit sector, as is longer-term analyses of program success among beneficiary populations.
Myth #7. "I can't deal with people."
Or: "Nonprofits only do direct service work."
The truth: While some of the organizations that are most recognizable as nonprofits (e.g. food pantries, mentoring programs, shelters, etc.) offer direct service programming, many nonprofit professionals hold titles like accountant, software engineer, salesperson, human resources professional, manager, fundraiser, or executive. Many more are researchers and advocates for certain issues or support the work of direct service organizations. In other words, not every nonprofit professional is a frontline, on-the-ground worker.
Myth #8. "Only for liberals."
Or: "Nonprofits only support left-wing causes."
The truth: The nonprofit sector itself does not have a political agenda, and many organizations exist to provide services and promote interests that the government does not. The organizations within the sector lean left, right, and everywhere in between.
Myth #9. "I love volunteering, so why not?"
Or: "Working for a nonprofit is just like volunteering."
The truth: Many nonprofits rely on volunteers to help carry out their mission. Volunteers, however, are often shielded from the organizational, financial, and other challenges with which the actual employees of an organization must contend, to say nothing of the burnout faced by many who have spent more time working in the field.
Understanding Employee Benefits
Now that you’ve had a chance to unpack common nonprofit misconceptions, let's shift our focus to another crucial aspect of the nonprofit experience—employee benefits.
Understanding the intricacies of the benefits landscape is essential for professionals seeking a fulfilling and well-rounded career in the nonprofit world.
Here is a short list of benefits currently being offered at many organizations across the sector. Take a read through to understand what each benefit means, what you may want to ask in an interview process, and what may be up for negotiation before accepting an offer and benefits package.
Child- and elder-care benefits
Each year, there are new professionals entering the workforce who are also responsible for caring for a friend or relative, and as a result, child care and elder care provisions are becoming more prevalent in benefits packages. Some examples of what an employer may offer in the way of child and elder care include the provision of flextime and location flexibility, long-term care insurance, child- and elder care centers, voluntary reduced time, and job sharing. If you plan to utilize these benefits, be sure to find out what the employer offers either in terms of payment or referrals; some employers will only cover expenses for programs and services referred through their own formal process.
While employers generally wouldn't offer overtime pay available to exempt staff, many do offer comp time.
Comp time means that for every extra hour you work over your contractually agreed-upon hours, you can take up to an hour off. This may come in the form of a formal system that requires you to keep careful records, or it may mean that you have the flexibility to come in late, leave early, or take a full day off after working on a day that is not a part of your usual schedule. Note that there may be a cap on how much comp time can be used in any one pay period as well as whether you can roll comp time into the proceeding pay period if left unused.
Workplace policies and culture can have a huge impact on work-life balance for employees and their families.
For example, an employer may offer staff opportunities to work remotely, create their own work schedules, and/or receive paid leave to care for sick family members, a new baby, or newly adopted child.
Workplace practices that benefit families may include recognizing the family responsibilities of both parents/guardians and continuing to consider staff for promotions, raises, and bonuses even when they take advantage of family-friendly policies.
When considering whether a job offer will work for you (and whether you would like to negotiate), you may find that while an employer may not be flexible on salary, they're still willing to talk about your working hours.
Here are some suggestions on questions to ask when negotiating working hours:
- Is it possible to reduce the number of hours on the job?
- Is it possible to work alternate hours (outside of or overlapping with the traditional 9-to-5) that would allow you to pursue other opportunities?
You may also want to ask about job sharing, compressed workweeks (e.g., working 10-hour days four days per week), and remote work.
This is one of the standard benefits usually offered to full-time employees. Note that most internships and part-time jobs will not provide health care benefits. This is also one of the benefits that will probably not be open to negotiation because of laws that require employers to provide consistent health benefits to all employees. However, you should still find out the specifics of the health care options.
There should be HR staff (or someone in operations or administration who acts as a benefits coordinator) in the organization who can explain the pros and cons of any plan option.
This is a particularly complex part of your compensation package and you should inquire about the plan’s details and costs.
- Structure: Medical services have gradually changed from traditional fee-for-service organizations into health maintenance organizations (HMOs). HMOs receive a fixed premium each month, and in exchange offer a range of services. HMOs provide many services under one plan, while fee-for-service providers operate less centrally and allow members to choose which medical practitioners they use. With these plans, there may be different pay scales for doctors outside a network.
- Mental health services/employee assistance programs (EAPs): Some employers offer EAPs, typically set up with an outside contracting agency, to provide confidential counseling in dealing with stress, substance abuse, finances, relationship problems, and family issues and/or personal concerns.
- Other services: If you have specific, recurring medical needs (like physical therapy, allergies, prescriptions, etc.) check to see that your treatments are covered by your employer’s plan.
- Dental and vision insurance: Some health plans include dental and vision insurance while others may only partially cover it or not cover it all. Consider whether preventive care and surgical care are covered and to what extent (deductibles, co-pay, and annual and lifetime maximums).
Life and disability insurance
Life insurance usually affords a certain amount of basic coverage for employees with the option of buying additional coverage for employees and their families. Disability insurance provides a percentage of lost wages in case the employee is unable to work due to a non-work-related injury or illness. The period and cost of this kind of coverage varies from plan to plan, and is in addition to any disability coverage required by the state.
Please note that worker’s compensation is another form of insurance that most employers are legally required to provide for injuries that happen while on the job.
For workers who plan to retire (eventually), some employers offer opportunities to gradually reduce responsibilities and working hours as a way to help ramp-up the knowledge and skills of the next generation of leaders.
Professional development programs
Professional development reimbursement is an incredibly valuable part of a compensation package. Let's face it, whether you're brand new to the field or a seasoned professional, it's always useful to have opportunities to expand your skill set and expertise. In addition to joining courses and workshops, you'll want to inquire about any opportunities to attend conferences or national meetings as well.
Even the smallest nonprofits will understand the value of networking and professional development. Expressing interest in these opportunities at the outset will make it clear that you are interested in growing with the organization.
If a new role requires a move, sometimes an employer will help cover moving expenses. There are a variety of ways an employer may offer this benefit. Some employers will offer a bonus as their contribution to moving expenses; others will offer a flat contribution; still others reimburse an employee for the full or partial cost of the move. If relocation is necessary for the position, you'll want to ask if reimbursement for relocation expenses is available.
Pro Tip: If you're trying to determine the tax implications of relocation costs and reimbursement, start by checking with the IRS.
Retirement investment plans
The most common retirement plans are Sections 403(b) and 401(k).
These plans allow employees to deduct a portion of their pre-tax salary and put it into a fund for their retirement. This may also result in falling into a lower tax bracket. The money is invested while in the account and cannot be taken out of the fund (without incurring penalties) until an employee reaches retirement age.
An employer may contribute or match a percentage of the employee’s contribution; whether or not your employer does is an important question to ask.
Most nonprofits offer 403(b) retirement plans that mainly differ from a 401(k) plan in how they are administered.
For all practical purposes, the benefits of these two types of retirement plans are comparable.
Some nonprofits offer defined benefit plans (e.g. a pension plan with guaranteed payouts).
Family and medical leave
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires that most organizations with 50 or more employees provide up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave during a 12 month period for personal or family illness, and parental leave for the birth of a child, to care for a newborn child, or the adoption of a child. This act also includes a provision for twenty-six work weeks of leave within a consecutive 12-month period for eligible employees to provide care for a covered servicemember experiencing a serious injury or illness. Eligibility for this particular type of leave is limited to individuals who are the spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin of the servicemember.
Some employers only offer what is required under the FMLA, while others provide some form of paid time off for a wider variety of reasons. Often an employer will require staff to use vacation and sick days first.
Some states offer six weeks of paid family leave to everyone.
This is a useful term to be aware of. While there may be somewhat differing opinions on the exact definition, most employers agree that total compensation covers all elements of value that an employee regularly receives, beyond base pay. All of the following may be included in the figure: wages, health insurance, retirement benefits, bonuses, paid time off, training opportunities, and any at-home office equipment purchased by the employer (as long as it doesn't need to be returned upon resignation).
A strong total compensation package can go a long way in efforts to attract, retain, and motivate employees, considering both monetary and non-monetary aspects of the employment relationship. As a job seeker and ultimately, an employee, total compensation can aid in your informed decision making, salary and benefits negotiation, and long-term career planning.
These programs help support an employee’s continuing education. Reimbursement can range from a single workshop or a college course to a full degree program. Larger organizations are more likely to offer a formal plan, although smaller organizations are often willing to negotiate time away from work for educational purposes, even if they can’t help with the cost.
Also keep in mind that many education-focused nonprofits (like private universities) offer scholarships or tuition remission to employees as well as partners, spouses, and children of employees.
Vacation time (or paid time off)
This is one of the more flexible and variable benefits. However, there are often specific guidelines on vacation days.
For example, vacation days may be limited during an employee’s first year (or first few months); they may not begin accumulating immediately; and there may be a cap on the number of days an employee can take consecutively or during peak busy-periods when time off may be discouraged. Similarly, be sure to find out if and how the organization delineates between vacations, personal days, paid holidays, mental health days, and so on.
Does the organization have the resources (like equipment, office space, personnel, budgets, software, policies) that would make your work life easier? Is there a budget for other things that you need to do a good job? Some employers are willing to make adjustments or investments to accommodate your work needs. A great example of this would be any ergonomic equipment that you either require (or simply prefer) in order to keep you comfortable and productive.
Consider if you need any other information about your work environment and the resources that will be at your disposal to evaluate the job offer properly.
Chapter 2: Salary Negotiation During the Interview Process
Now it’s time to unpack the intricacies of negotiating compensation with finesse. This chapter offers resources to aid in tactfully communicating your value during a salary discussion.
Whether you find yourself seasoned in the professional landscape or preparing for your very first interview (!), these pages are your compass for navigating negotiations with grace.
Answering the Salary History Question
There's a nationwide trend in the career and job search space with big implications for job seekers: new laws banning interviewers from asking candidates to disclose salary history. As of the publication of this post, 22 states and 22 localities have enacted some form of a ban on asking candidates what they’ve made in previous jobs.
If you’re looking for a job, it’s time to pay attention to what’s happening over at your state capitol or local governing body. Even if elected officials aren’t yet considering a ban in your area, read below to learn how giving your salary history can impact your job search. We also offer suggestions if the question comes up during the interview or application process. From skillful redirection to framing salary history as part of a comprehensive compensation package, learn how to better navigate the complexities of salary discussions.
Why some locales are banning questions related to salary history
These laws are a new wave in a decades-long quest to achieve pay equity—particularly between men and women—across demographics and identities.
In 2022, women working full time, year round, were paid only 84 cents per dollar earned by men working the same hours. Women of color and women with disabilities typically experience an even larger wage gap due to a number of factors, including discrimination and occupational segregation that can steer them into lower-paying jobs.
Here’s how salary history questions can perpetuate the pay gap. If you were underpaid at your first job, and then your second job bases your salary off of the first job, then you’ll likely be underpaid at your second job, too. And if your third job bases their offer on your salary history … you can probably see where this is headed. Even though your salary increases, the pay gap persists and is likely getting worse, as your peers who may have been paid fairly in their first jobs continue to make more and more money based on past salaries.
Banning questions about salary history is one way to interrupt the cycle. If an employer doesn’t know your salary history, this can help to keep salaries competitive and moving in the direction of equity.
How to respond if you’re asked for your salary history
Despite the wave of new laws, other cities and states continue to allow interviewers to ask for your salary history, so it’s still likely to come up. Let’s look at three scenarios where you may get asked for your salary history and how to respond in each one.
In a city or state where the question is not permitted
Ideally you won’t get asked for your salary history if you live in a place that has banned the question. But keep in mind that some employers may be unfamiliar with the newer laws.
One option, if you’re comfortable with it, is to address the illegality of the question directly but respectfully, and then pivot to a different topic. For example: “I don’t think that’s appropriate for us to discuss with the new law, but one thing I would like to talk about is…” and then ask about the office culture or what they would expect someone in this position to have accomplished in their first year.
Another option is to simply pivot with language like, “Before we talk about salary, I’d like to learn more about the role. Could you tell me more about what you would expect someone in this position to have accomplished in their first year?” With any luck, your interviewer will have forgotten about salary history by the time they finish answering your question.
No matter how you choose to handle it in the moment, you can always report the incident if you want. Check the law for reporting procedures, or call your elected representatives for help finding those details in the statute.
During an interview where the question is allowed
In this situation, the pivot is again your friend. But if that strategy isn’t working and your interviewer keeps asking about salary history, you have a few choices.
Alison Green of Ask A Manager recommends redirecting the question to what salary range you’re seeking, with language like:
- “I keep that information confidential, but the range I’m looking for now is …”
- “My previous employers have always considered that information confidential, but I’m seeking …”
Pro Tip: Do your research before the interview so you’re prepared to give an appropriate salary range in this scenario.
If the interviewer still pushes for your salary history, Green says you’ll have to decide if it’s worth answering the question or potentially losing out on the opportunity by refusing to answer.
If you decide to share your salary history, frame it as one part of a comprehensive compensation package and reiterate your expectation that you’ll be able to agree on a fair salary that works for both you and the organization if the role turns out to be a fit.
In your cover letter or initial application
This is one of the most frustrating places to encounter the salary history question because it feels harder to avoid answering; you can’t pivot to another topic, and sometimes you can’t skip the field on an online application form.
Once again, you’ll have to weigh if it’s worth answering the question directly and potentially losing leverage in the salary negotiation phase versus declining to answer and risking your chances of moving forward in the interview process.
If you choose to decline the question on an online form, you can enter “0” in the required salary history field and then mention in the notes field or in your cover letter that you prefer not to disclose your salary history.
If you decide to answer the question, Green of Ask A Manager advises against giving your full salary history. Instead, she suggests, use language like, “I’m currently earning $75,000 and would be glad to discuss what I’m seeking in my next position after learning more about your opening.”
Remember that your worth transcends what you were paid in previous roles (especially if you weren't being compensated appropriately). Whether through skillful redirection, emphasizing expectations, or focusing on the present value you bring, a thoughtful response to the salary history question can feel empowering and help to ensure you're paid fairly at your next job.
4 Tips for Salary Negotiation During the Interview Process
Ah, money. We all think about it plenty, but it can be so uncomfortable to bring up in conversation—especially when the topic is that you deserve more of it! When it comes to negotiating salary for a new job, though, it’s critical that you find a way to confidently and appropriately steer the conversation.
It can be hard to determine when, how, and if you should bring up salary during an interview process, but with preparation and confidence, you'll be able to advocate for yourself when the time comes.
Tip 1: Do your research
Doing your research can give you a good starting point, as well as the extra boost of confidence that comes from truly knowing your stuff! Salary tools like Idealist’s Nonprofit Salary Explorer can be a valuable resource for your research process.
Tip 2: Don’t be afraid to talk about money
The truth is, the “right” time to bring up salary may vary depending on the job and the interview process. It has become more common for salary to come up as early as the initial pre-screen interview, and more and more states are requiring employers to list a salary range in the job listing.
If your interviewer brings up salary expectations, answer honestly. If they raise the topic and you feel comfortable starting that conversation (and are prepared to do so), go for it! A good time may be at the very end of your interview when your interviewer shares the next steps in the hiring process. You can ask a question, like “Would you be able to give me an idea of the salary range for this position, just to make sure we’re on the same page?”
If you think you should wait to discuss salary, follow your instincts. If you can afford to wait it out, or you already have an idea of the salary, you may choose to kick the can down the road a bit and wait until you have an offer. Even though it shouldn't be, bringing up salary too early in an interview process (especially considering your timing and delivery) can be off-putting for an interviewer.
If you do discuss compensation, we recommend speaking in terms of a range rather than a specific dollar amount. This will give you some flexibility as the interview process progresses. Consider putting the number you want at the lower end of the range, and then going up 5-10% from there. For example, rather than asking for a static $50,000, consider saying that you’re looking in the $50,000-$55,000 range, and that you may be flexible when benefits are taken into consideration (if that's true for you).
Pro Tip: Now that more states are requiring employers to include salary ranges in job listings, there's a good chance that you'll already know where to set initial salary expectations before submitting an application. That's progress!
Tip 3: Discuss your salary range with tact and confidence
You’ve done your research, so take comfort in the knowledge that you know what you’re talking about. Be diplomatic, but don’t behave as if you’re doing something wrong; speak calmly and authoritatively. In fact, you can even say something like “I wanted to check in about compensation for this role to see if it lines up with my expectations and the compensation research I've already done.” Just be ready to give them an answer if they happen to ask what your research uncovered.
Also keep in mind that your salary potential does not need to be anchored in your salary history. Being underpaid by former employers shouldn’t sentence you to a cycle of low salaries moving forward.
Tip 4: Negotiate professionally—but clearly
Once a hiring manager has made an offer, they won’t be surprised to hear you’d like to negotiate. It doesn’t mean they can or will play along, but it’s your right to bring up salary and advocate for yourself. Try to strike a balance between showing an understanding of where they’re coming from and reiterating your own talking points.
Something like, “I understand what you’re saying, and I’m willing to discuss it. I’d like to talk about how we can move toward $65,000. It’s the market value for the role, and it’s where I should be based on my experience and achievements,” shows that you’re listening but you also know your worth.
If you try to negotiate and an employer makes it clear that they won’t budge on money, you still have options. Consider negotiating other benefits like flex time, title changes, or projects that interest you. Ask how potential future raises or bonuses might work, or about opportunities for growth, and try to get anything they’re able to offer you in writing. If they can’t give you answers that are sustainable for your life and wellbeing, it may be a good moment to ask yourself if this is the right fit.
Compensation is important. Know your worth, and ask for it.
Chapter 3: How to Ask for a Raise
Now that we’ve reviewed insights on salary negotiation during the interview process, let’s move on to asking for a raise with your current employer. This chapter offers tips on how to express your aspirations for earning and achieving more in a way that is well-timed, well-informed, and professional.
From setting realistic goals and reflecting on your accomplishments, to asking for more responsibility or a raise, each section below offers actionable insights.
Making a Case for Earning What You Deserve
The idea of asking for more responsibility or a raise may feel a bit disconcerting (especially the first time you do it). However, as long as your ask is realistic, you should feel comfortable and confident approaching your employer to share your professional and financial goals.
Here's how to ask for a raise, promotion, or more responsibility at work.
Setting realistic goals
Take a few minutes to reflect on what you have accomplished over the last year (or more). That means answering these questions for yourself:
- What were your primary work responsibilities and to-dos this past year?
- What are the top three challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
- What have been your measurable contributions to work?
- Are you fairly compensated for the effort you put into your job?
- What do you want to do less of next year?
- What do you want to do more of next year?
These questions will help you recognize which strengths you developed, what you have achieved, and what your next career steps may be. Your answers to these questions will serve as the foundation for next year’s goals.
How to ask for more responsibility
Asking for more responsibility can feel a lot easier than asking for more money. However, you still need to be prepared to make your case based on how closely you have fulfilled your basic responsibilities (e.g. those that would be listed in the job description for your role), and how you have gone above and beyond.
There is a certain amount of flexibility in asking your manager for more responsibility—it all depends on what you want. For example, if you find yourself finishing your basic responsibilities quickly and have time to spare, you can simply let your manager know you have the time to commit to more.
If, however, you want to be eligible for a big promotion, you’ll want to approach your manager more strategically and let them know you’re looking for more of a challenge (and that you’re interested in a promotion!). To support your ask, remind them of what you have accomplished in your role, as well as noting how you have gone above and beyond to contribute at work.
How to ask for a raise
When it comes to asking for a raise, approach your manager in the same way you would if you were preparing your candidacy for a promotion. The biggest difference with a raise, however, is that you need to temper your expectations before walking into your manager’s office.
If you believe your contributions deserve a raise, you can absolutely ask for one—but only after you have done your homework, which entails answering the questions mentioned above and also getting a sense of what is a fair salary for your work in the sector. You want to pay attention to how your organization’s financial situation may have changed over the course of the year and how that has affected their forecast for the year ahead, and also, whether your organization tends to give merit increases or if promotions (more responsibility and a new title + a salary increase) are more the norm.
If, for example, your organization’s fortunes have significantly changed for the worse, approach your manager with realistic expectations. When you make your case to them, you may even want to say something like, “I know that last year was difficult for our organization, but here is why I’m asking for an X% raise.” By being proactive and acknowledging the proverbial elephant in the room, your manager will appreciate that you see the challenges but that you also brought clear value to the table.
How to ask for a promotion
And what if you want both more responsibility and more money—also known as a promotion? In this case, your approach will be similar to asking for a raise. You will need to come prepared with clear evidence of your effectiveness in your current position.
Perhaps your organization has a clear hierarchy, salary bands, or pay grade system. In this case, you may easily be able to access the core competencies of each job grade and explain how you've been excelling in your current position.
If you work at a smaller organization or one with a flat hierarchy, the path to a promotion may not be so clear cut. But you could, for example, express your desire to manage a project or team (or at least a few interns!) and have a title bump to more accurately reflect your new responsibilities—like moving from an "Associate" to "Senior Associate" position.
Stay top of mind
There is a chance that your manager is convinced by your case, but cannot commit to promoting you or raising your salary until later. This may be disappointing, but keep in mind that this isn’t a sly brush-off—it’s just the nature of the times we live in. Your task, then, is to follow up with respect and consideration so that when your organization is ready, your well-planned request is top of mind.
When You Should (and Shouldn’t) Ask for a Raise
“Don’t rock the boat.” We’ve all heard the warning, whether it’s in school, in the workplace, or in personal relationships. It’s not bad advice if you’re out on the open ocean, but in most other situations, it may keep us from asking important questions out of fear that we will mess up a good thing.
Working to negotiate a higher starting salary or a raise isn’t rocking the boat; it’s advocating for yourself by making sure you’re being compensated for the unique skills and experience that you bring to your organization.
Still, timing matters. While a job offer is a common window of opportunity for negotiating salary and benefits, it can be a lot more confusing and intimidating to determine the right time to ask for a raise.
When should you ask for a raise and when should you think twice about it? We spoke to two negotiation experts to get the scoop.
At the time of this interview, Jesse Rauch was Senior Program Manager of AAUW Start Smart and AAUW Work Smart. Through these two programs, the American Association of University Women has trained thousands of women on the ins and outs of salary negotiation.
Tanya Tarr is a leadership coach and Forbes contributor who specializes in negotiation tactics. Among her many accomplishments in the career space, Tarr has developed negotiation resources for nonprofit professionals and job seekers who identify as introverts.
Ask when you’ve earned it
One of the first things Rauch shares with us is, “Raises are earned.”
So what does it mean to earn a raise in a social-impact profession where our accomplishments aren’t always defined by conversions or company profits? Completing a big project or taking on new responsibility “might be reasons to go to your boss and start a conversation about your career trajectory where you might ask about that raise or promotion,” Rauch says.
If you’re having trouble figuring out what kind of accomplishment justifies starting the raise conversation, Tarr recommends reframing the question as, “What problem did I solve?”
“If you can tell your supervisor what problem you solved, that is a direct articulation of your value,” Tarr says. Depending on your job, the solution might be developing a new system for case management, revamping your organization’s end-of-year fundraising campaign, or securing additional funding for your program in the state budget.
Another way to tell if an accomplishment rises to the level of asking for a raise is if you received recognition for it from other colleagues and higher-ups, Tarr says. Whenever this happens, add it to your “greatest hits” portfolio, she adds. This portfolio includes outputs and outcomes that you contributed to, such as a direct mail piece, outreach program, new training manual, or a testimonial from a coworker about your contribution to a project. Having a greatest hits portfolio can help you make the case for your raise and increase your confidence heading into the conversation.
Pro Tip: Keeping track of your accomplishments will help you in other scenarios, too, such as updating your resume and answering interview questions.
Take the fiscal year into account
Tarr suggests confirming when your organization’s fiscal year starts—it may not be the same as the calendar year—and making your ask a few months prior to the new fiscal year. This way, your boss has more space to consider and grant your request because the coming year’s budget has not yet been set.
This timing also helps if you’re asking for more professional development opportunities, because your organization may have unspent funds in that budget line as the fiscal year draws to a close. Tarr says you’ll be more successful at getting a “yes” to the professional development ask if you’ve done your homework and identified the training or conference you want to attend, including all associated costs.
Be wary of asking during a budget crisis
Asking for a raise during a budget crisis can be thorny since the cost of your raise is more than just the salary increase; your employer will also have to pay more in payroll taxes, Tarr points out.
Still, that doesn’t mean you should never ask for a raise when your organization’s budget is tight. For example, AAUW’s Rauch says that if you’ve taken on additional responsibility due to layoffs, you may have a case to ask for a raise. And if your organization’s finances truly don’t allow for a raise at that time, he suggests asking for other perks such as a more flexible work schedule, remote work options, additional paid vacation time, or more professional development.
Bottom line: If you’ve earned it, ask for it
All of us, no matter what field or profession we work in, should strive to be paid what we feel we’re worth, Rauch says. So if something has changed in the value you bring to your organization, it’s time to build your case and ask for more.
Pro Tip: Use Idealist's Nonprofit Salary Explorer to get a better sense of what your work is worth and what others in the sector are earning. This comparative research can be a powerful tool when you're ready to ask for that raise.
And do it confidently! If you have a credible case, “do not apologize or back pedal on your requests,” Tarr says.
That doesn’t mean your salary negotiation is a confrontation; both Rauch and Tarr want you to view asking for a raise as a collaborative process; a conversation with your boss about your value. With confidence and preparation, you can make this conversation a win-win for everyone involved.
Chapter 4: The Idealist Nonprofit Salary Explorer | Your Best Tool for Salary Negotiation
Here at Idealist, we’re not just talking about salaries; we’ve also developed an entire brand new functionality to help inform all of your salary decisions in the nonprofit sector (you may have read about it once or twice or tens of times in the preceding chapters).
Whether you’re wondering about negotiation, counter-offers, closing the wage gap, cost-of-living, or pay equity, it’s our goal to provide you with the data and the power to make the best salary decisions for you.
What is the Nonprofit Salary Explorer?
Idealist’s Nonprofit Salary Explorer is our free compensation tool developed specifically for current and aspiring social-impact professionals.
It’s fueled by 40k+ submissions from real people working at nonprofits across the country who have taken our salary survey. We ask for a few pieces of key information that influence compensation—like job title, salary, years of experience, location, and optional demographics. That way, social-impact professionals like you can use the tool to find out what you need to know before negotiating salary, switching roles, or relocating to a new city.
If you’ve worked full time (35+ hours/week) at a nonprofit in the United States within the last three years, we want to hear from you! Try it out. →
Once you’ve taken the survey, explore nonprofit salaries submitted by others using our salary calculator tool. You can filter results by specific parameters—job title, location, years of relevant experience—and dig into even more detail when planning a career move. Try it out. →
Salary transparency and shared data = pay equity
In the survey, we ask social-impact professionals to (optionally) share important information such as race and ethnicity, gender identity or expression, veteran status, disabilities status, and age. We understand that these aren’t minor details; in fact we take your data—and your data protection—very seriously.
But how does Idealist use this information? And does it really benefit social-impact professionals?
As many of us in the workforce know, pay inequity is real. One need only look at things like this post on the wage gap to get a sense of the issues that exist. The more details we’re able to collect from you and your fellow social-impact professionals, the more holistic the salary story becomes, allowing us to share rich and well-informed data and resources with our community.
Ultimately, we hope that our unique ability to celebrate instances of equitable pay in the sector, as well as shine a spotlight on where pay can be better, will benefit everyone from new grads to seasoned professionals. And where there’s an opportunity to do better, we always strive to be a ready resource in that work, so you can expect plenty more from us in the way of pay equity and transparency.