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Welcome to The Salary Chronicles, where we’re bringing transparency to negotiation and salaries, one story at a time. We ask women to share their experiences negotiating their salary and what their advice is for others doing the same. We share these stories anonymously so they feel comfortable speaking as openly and as freely as possible.

This week we’re speaking with a woman who negotiated her salary while working for a nonprofit. She believes that even though salaries are typically lower than in the private sector, you still deserve to be compensated fairly for your work in the public or nonprofit sector. You can do good by doing well. 

Position: Executive Director, Nonprofit

Location: New York Area

Original Salary: $215K

Salary Requested: $235K

What was the situation when you decided you were going to negotiate your salary?

I had been working as an executive director for a nonprofit for three years and had received extremely small raises during my time there, which is pretty typical for the nonprofit sector.

I decided that this year it was time to ask for a significant raise. The performance of our nonprofit was great, we had come in significantly under budget, and we were operating with an open senior director position, which meant I was taking on a lot more work.

Even though I work in the public sector, I’ve always made it a point to negotiate and ask for what I think is appropriate. In the nonprofit world, there can sometimes be a misguided expectation that having a fulfilling career and loving what you do should be enough. That we shouldn’t ask for more. I believe that even though I love what I do and I know I could make more with a private sector job, I still have every right to advocate for a salary that is commensurate with my experience and the value that I bring to the organization.

I went to work doing my research, collecting industry benchmarks, and building a strong case for a raise. I felt extremely justified in asking for a 9% raise, but I knew there would be some pushback because it’s higher than an average annual raise at a nonprofit. I wanted to be as prepared and as confident as possible.

How did you start the negotiation?

As the executive director of a nonprofit, my negotiation would be with a group of our core funders. A lot of these funders come from high profile foundations and it’s important that we keep a healthy relationship.

I submitted my raise request during the annual review process along with the raises I was requesting for all employees in the organization. I believe in paying our employees fairly and request raises for them when the situation merits. I knew I needed to do the same for myself.

To support my raise, I sent some of the topline research to show why what I was asking for was justified. I was able to send the entire request via email to the group, which made it less nerve-wracking than asking for it in person.

What happened next?

After I sent the request, one of the core funders called me to basically let me know it wasn’t going to happen. My raise was being denied. But I knew I didn’t want the conversation to stop there.

I asked one of the other senior directors that I work with to help me craft my compelling story. I pulled together a review of how the nonprofit had performed over the past 3 years, the value I was providing, and I clearly articulated the additional work I was taking on because we were understaffed.  I also sent all of the research I had done into the average salaries for someone in my position, which backed up exactly what I was asking for.

I had done my homework, I knew what I wanted, and I knew what I needed to do. I held firm with my request and sent the entire report with the information I had pulled together back to the core funders. I reiterated again that the $20k increase was justified and that it was necessary for me to continue to feel recognized for the work that I do.

What was the end result?

After sending that email I was so nervous. Though I absolutely believed that my raise was justified, I really didn’t know what they would say.

A few days later I received an email back. My hands were shaking as I read the subject line. I opened it and saw that they agreed and approved my raise. My work and my contributions were being recognized monetarily.

What advice do you have for other women?

Do your research. I never would have felt comfortable asking for this without having the data to support it. I reviewed compensation analysis reports that showed the average salaries for people in my position and industry. Having this data gave me the confidence to push back when they questioned my raise.

Advocate for yourself. It’s so easy to not advocate for yourself. This is true for all women, but is especially true for women working in the public or nonprofit sector. Give yourself your due. I believe that if I’m going to stick with this type of work and the impact that I’m making, I need to make sure I’m taking care of myself and being responsible for myself. That means advocating for myself and making sure that I am taking care of myself and my family financially.

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