Negotiating a Nonprofit Job Offer: 5 Tips for Receiving What You’re Worth

Negotiate Your Salary

You just nailed the final interview for a major gifts officer position at the nonprofit of your dreams. Everything feels ideal: the nonprofit serves in a causal area you’re passionate about, the team seems driven and welcoming, and the role perfectly blends the use of your current skill set with skills you’re determined to learn.

There’s just one problem: the salary you’ve just been offered is below what you expected or feel is commensurate with your level of experience. What now? Do you walk away, understanding that nonprofits face strict budgetary constraints and may not have the resources to compensate you appropriately? Do you immediately accept the offer with gratitude for the opportunity to work at such an inspiring and effective organization?

Our Advice? Do Neither.

Rather than walking away or accepting the first offer you receive, do your research, consider your professional value, and ask for more. Each situation is different, but there are always tactics for respectfully negotiating the terms of your employment. Interestingly, though negotiating at a nonprofit is not that different from doing so at a corporation, oftentimes the mission-driven, nonprofit mindset that attracts individuals to this sector may inhibit them from asking for what they should.

“There’s a sense of being in a cause together that creates a deeper sense of commitment,” says Chandra Alexandre, vice president of development at the Global Fund for Women. “When it comes to negotiation, people being offered a nonprofit job often think they don’t have as much room,” she says. “Actually, they generally have a lot more latitude than they think.” – Chandra Alexandre, Global Fund for Women

In reference to advice from powerhouses like the Harvard Business Review and Chronicle of Philanthropy, here are 5 surefire tips and tricks for ensuring your value is recognized in your next nonprofit job offer.

Prepare a justification for your request.

  1. Prepare a justification for your salary request.

Generating profit may not be a nonprofit’s priority, but that doesn’t mean the organization generates no profit at all. Successful nonprofits understand the value of paying their staff members well and incentivizing smart, motivated professionals to join their team. Know your worth as a fundraiser, and be able to speak to it. Guidestar and the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ compensation surveys are both reliable data sources for benchmarking what others are making in similar roles in your region. Networking strategies such as surfing Indeed and Glassdoor, or speaking to professionals who work in similar roles to the one you are considering may also give you some perspective on the type of money you should expect to be making. Your salary request can’t speak for itself. Take charge, confidently describing your story and the justification that accompanies it.

Genuinely try to understand the nonprofit's constraints.

  1. Genuinely try to understand the nonprofit’s constraints.

Checking out an organization’s 990 forms is an excellent way to view what its executive-level employees are earning, particularly if you’re applying to an executive-level fundraising position. If not, diving into the nonprofit’s recent annual reports (usually posted on their website) can often provide you with a pretty good sense of their budget.

Despite whether the nonprofit’s budget reveals recent major increases or downfalls in revenue, you must still tread the waters of negotiation carefully. Feel free to point to recent increases in revenue that might permit you to receive a higher salary, but do so with humility and respect. And remember – a nonprofit may love you but may still be unable to meet your salary expectations for myriad reasons. Handcuffs like board decisions or restricted donations may be limiting your hiring manager behind the scenes, and, quite frankly, there’s often nothing you can do about it.

In cases where your salary isn’t flexible, consider asking for flexibility in other areas: vacation time, start dates, or signing bonuses. If, at the end of the day, your gut is telling you the employer’s offer is still not enough, have the courage to walk away with dignity and respect.

Don't Play Hard to Get

  1. Don’t play too hard to get.

If you’re negotiating the terms of an offer with a nonprofit, make sure they can trust that you’re serious about working for them. It’s tempting to remind a nonprofit of how “wanted” you are in the field and how many other employers you’re interviewing with or have offered you positions. This may sound great on paper, but if the nonprofit feels they’re not going to “get you,” despite their efforts to meet your requirements, why bother trying?  Approach your unique situation with the facts, confidence, and professionalism to make the nonprofit want to hire you – but never make them feel as though you’ll be too hard to get.

Consider the whole package; negotiate on other things.

  1. Consider the whole package; negotiate for other things.

There are many more aspects of a job offer that will bring you happiness besides the salary itself. Avoid fixating on money! Would it improve your productivity to work remotely a few days a week? Are you interested in more vacation time, paid travel, or a paid course that will teach you skills related to the role? Remember to ask for these changes in your offer all at once. If employers have to wade back and forth through a lot of headache to meet your needs, their sense of generosity and patience may dwindle against your favor.

Plan for future negotiations.

  1. Plan for future negotiations.

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Your nonprofit may be incapable of offering you a higher salary now, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be unable to in the future. Consider negotiating a series of performance-based salary increases to go into effect after you meet your upcoming goals. For example, you might request that if you’re able to raise X amount of dollars in your first two quarters of employment, you should be compensated in some form (e.g. money, paid time off, etc.) for doing so. Once you have the nonprofit on board for this kind of negotiation, get it in writing. Ask the employer to add a clause to your contract to ensure you receive what is due later on, and seek initial approval for your request by the nonprofit’s board of directors. Future negotiations can be tricky, so you’ll want to have all of your bases covered when the time comes for you to be compensated.

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