Is $36k a reasonable professional salary for a non-profit job in a mid-range cost-of-living city?
March 17, 2012 2:30 PM   Subscribe

Is $36k a decent salary? I'm weighing job options and could use some help assessing the salary factor.

I've never made very much money at all, so I don't have a good sense of what's a lot or a little. Please give me your thoughts on where the $36k offer I just received falls on the spectrum: is it way too low? Is it about as good as I'm likely to get in this economy? I have not found Glassdoor or very helpful in researching salaries in my field. I'm hoping the AskMe crowd can offer some insights!

* Job is in the Raleigh-Durham, NC area.
* Non-profit/public service field
* I am 30, have a relevant master's degree, 4-5 years of varied experience, and stellar references. I think I am generally a fairly competitive candidate, and have successfully gotten interviews, offers and jobs in the past.
* The position is entry-level. It requires a bachelor's and no work experience. They are offering me as much as they can for this position and have said there is no room to negotiate salary. I will try to negotiate other benefits, but don't know how successful that will be.
* Job includes health insurance and other benefits, including a 403(b) plan, but no employer matching of retirement savings.

It's not exactly a question of budget. I know I can live on this much--I've lived on much less. But I would love to be able to save really aggressively, since I'm behind on retirement/other long-term saving goals. I won't be able to save as much as I want to w/ $36k.

I'm unemployed right now, and obviously employed beats not-employed. But I could stand to hold out for a little longer if this offer is way too low. If this offer is about as good as I'll probably get elsewhere, I'll probably take it. I'm not interested in taking this job and quitting in 6 months for something better.

I'm of course also weighing a lot of other factors, like how much I like the job, career advancement potential, etc. But leaving those other factors aside for now, please give me your gut reaction to the salary: is $36k + benefits a reasonable amount, or should I be shooting for higher?

Thanks, all!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (29 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
That's not too bad in Raleigh for an entry-level gig.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:31 PM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

A lot of it depends on where you live and the field, and you say you can live comfortably on that amount, but I'd honestly expect a bit more salary with a Masters.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:32 PM on March 17, 2012

That seems totally reasonable for entry level at a non-profit in Raleigh. (I live here, too.) Even a bit generous, actually.
posted by something something at 2:41 PM on March 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm not familiar with salaries on the East coast, but $36K does seem low with a Masters degree relevant to the work. On the other hand, it's said to be much easier to get a job when you already have one, so take that into account too.
posted by anadem at 2:41 PM on March 17, 2012

The cost of living in Raleigh-Durham is significantly lower than in a lot of other places (especially the Northeast).

CNN thinks $36,000 in RDU is worth $84,000 in Manhattan.

Just something to keep in mind when you compare the salary to salaries in other places.
posted by gerryblog at 2:45 PM on March 17, 2012 [20 favorites]

I just did a curiosity-test of gerryblog's CNN link, using numbers familiar to me from both sides of a relocation, and it was far better than I expected. In that one case at least, it nailed the values with extreme precision.
posted by -harlequin- at 3:31 PM on March 17, 2012

For an entry level non profit that includes health insurance, that is not too bad. You have to keep in mind that your qualifications are not what they are basing the salary on, so your masters degree in this case is not going to help you much, but it certainly will come in to play as you move up within your field. In this economy, salaries are likely to be lower than they were several years ago, and will likely rise as things get better, so in this case I would imagine that you aren't getting taken advantage of.
posted by markblasco at 3:31 PM on March 17, 2012

As a data point, I got $30k as an entry-level non-profit person in Richmond, a similar market (that was in 2006, though).

I was more than happy with the offer and found that I lived a lot better than other entry-level non-profit folks.
posted by downing street memo at 3:33 PM on March 17, 2012

That seems reasonable for the field and the location. Here in Boston, you'd probably get a higher salary (my guess would be in the mid-40s) but your cost of living would be so much higher that you'd still come out behind.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:47 PM on March 17, 2012

Sounds pretty good for an entry-level, non-profit position in Raleigh. It's low for someone with a masters and work experience, but since those aren't required for the job you probably don't have a ton of leverage there. You're not going to get many better salary offers for similar jobs - only if you aim higher, but then the competition is going to be steeper.
posted by naoko at 3:49 PM on March 17, 2012

I live in a place with similar cost of living (according to that link above), and that is a higher salary than you would get here for entry-level non-profit work. As people have said, it is low for having a masters -- but the job is not one that requires that credential and/or experience, and they've said they are tapped out on salary. (It is not uncommon to start someone a bit under the maximum, so that you can give them a bump at their first review; pressing hard for more salary might just cause you to have no raises for a while.)
posted by Forktine at 3:59 PM on March 17, 2012

It is not uncommon to start someone a bit under the maximum, so that you can give them a bump at their first review; pressing hard for more salary might just cause you to have no raises for a while.

It's also not uncommon to promise a bump at the first review which never quite materializes.
posted by localroger at 4:10 PM on March 17, 2012 [5 favorites]

The cost of living in Raleigh-Durham is significantly lower than in a lot of other places (especially the Northeast).

CNN thinks $36,000 in RDU is worth $84,000 in Manhattan.

Just something to keep in mind when you compare the salary to salaries in other places.
That seems really hard to believe.
The Manhattan ZIP Code 10021 ... is one of the largest concentrations of extreme wealth in the United States. Most Manhattan neighborhoods are not as wealthy. The median income for a household in the county was $47,030, and the median income for a family was $50,229. Males had a median income of $51,856 versus $45,712 for females.
If you kept the same scaling, the median income in Manhattan would be equivalent to just $21526 in Raleigh-Durham, which is below the national poverty line for a family of four. Obviously if you live in Manhattan, you'll live in a small apartment and stuff is expensive, but once you have food and rent covered, any disposable income spent on stuff like electronics or plane tickets or anything of that nature buys just as much. Plus, you'll probably need a car, and gas in Raleigh, whereas you can use the subway in NYC.
posted by delmoi at 4:29 PM on March 17, 2012

For perspective to anyone wondering about the cost of living in Raleigh, my 2 bedroom apartment in Durham (just outside of Raleigh) was much, much nicer than my current apartment in DC and cost 1/4 of what I am currently paying for a larger apartment with more and better amenities. And I imagine NY is more expensive than DC (although sometimes I really do wonder). My friend who moved from DC to Raleigh bought a brand new four bedroom house with upgraded everything for $285,000, where I'm sure the same house would cost $600 - 700K in the close in DC suburbs.
posted by echo0720 at 4:39 PM on March 17, 2012

Grab the job.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:54 PM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think that is a great salary for a non-profit job in that area. Take it. You will have other opportunities to advance later.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 4:56 PM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

That's way more than decent. You might be overqualified for the position, but yeah, that's a very good salary for a starting position at a nonprofit.
posted by infinitywaltz at 4:58 PM on March 17, 2012

Agreed--health benefits are worth a lot, and Durham area is dirt cheap (I know a woman in a three bedroom duplex paying $700/mo in Chapel Hill). Also keep in mind that a lot of non-profit work is grant funded, so that may be the salary limit until next year's budget goes through.

If the work is interesting and meaningful to you, you don't have much debt, and you think you'll like your coworkers, I'd go for it.
posted by smirkette at 6:23 PM on March 17, 2012

For a nonprofit entry-level position, that sounds like a FANTASTIC offer to me. If the job required your level of education/experience, it might be worth pushing for more, but if it's entry level, that offer is superb.
posted by epj at 6:46 PM on March 17, 2012

Don’t underestimate the health insurance. It may become more important in the next few years.
posted by bongo_x at 6:56 PM on March 17, 2012

Are you asking if $36k is good for an entry level position that requires no work experience, or is it good for YOU?

It's clearly great if you just graduated with your BA, but you have a masters and half a decade of work on your resume. I think both of these things can be true: you would be overpaid for the role, but underpaid for what you're capable of.

So you gotta figure out for yourself if you care to keep looking, but I would never place myself in a position where I was way overqualified for something. Because I know I would eventually be bored, resentful, and unsatisfied.

Hey I know you gotta eat, but consider their side of it. They've budgeted $36k as the maximum they're willing to pay a 22 year old. They would be getting way more than their money's worth if you accepted. Are you sure there isn't anything out there for someone more experienced? Will you love what you'll be doing?
posted by danny the boy at 7:23 PM on March 17, 2012

It equates to $62k in San Francisco. If so, that's good for a first nonprofit job, even for having a masters.
posted by salvia at 7:28 PM on March 17, 2012

That is perfectly fine considering the location and the industry. (Masters degrees don't earn as much in the NFP world, as far as I've seen) Take the job and build more experience. Negotiate an extra week of vacation time and make sure you are comfortable with their salary review timeframes.
posted by gjc at 7:36 PM on March 17, 2012

One thing you might look into is if your employer's status qualifies you for PSLF. One plan I'm considering is throwing as much into 403b as I can and still live, to trigger IBR and maximize the amount forgiven.

So if you have loans, this is a hidden, tricky to value benefit that might move you into "accept" instead of "pass".
posted by pwnguin at 7:46 PM on March 17, 2012

as everyone else has said, sounds reasonable...i'm in CH and got $35k for an entry level position at unc, plus nice health insurance.

you mention you are able to live on much less and have done so before, and you also mention wanting to save aggressively.

in that case, why not grab this job for the time being (in this economy/these troubled times...etc), live on less than you're making, save as much as possible. maybe look into a Roth IRA if you haven't already, since the earnings from your Roth are tax free (but contributions aren't tax deductible).
posted by iahtl at 8:07 PM on March 17, 2012

My monthly insurance premium in our group is $735 (I pay half). That's worth $8,800.00 and is significant. No whining; jump on it straightaway.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 4:41 AM on March 18, 2012

Expanding on the previous thought a little, you could take $180 every two weeks and put it in your 403(b) instead of having to use it for an insurance premium. Times 26 that's $4680 per year earning interest at 6-12%, plus that's pre-tax on payroll (you don't pay tax on that portion of your income). It also means you finish the year paying federal and state taxes on a gross of $31,300 instead of $36,000.

Remember that if you get into an emergency, you can loan yourself money from the 403(b) and pay it back to yourself at a very low interest rate.

You would still have $1200 a month after taxes for rent, utilities, car, auto insurance, etc. If you can budget with that, you're in great shape.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 5:06 AM on March 18, 2012

Sorry, it's early. You would have a monthly net of $1900.00 to work with doing the $360 contribution each month. Maybe there's room for more?
posted by halfbuckaroo at 5:24 AM on March 18, 2012

Take the job! It's good for entry-level in Raleigh. It's not great for a Masters Degree, but like the job right? And you are unemployed. So it's a go. If you'd like to negotiate, here are things that are basically "free" for a nonprofit to give you:
1)flexible schedule
2)more vacation days
3)a better title
4)have health insurance kick in immediately (sometimes it takes a month)
5)structured mentoring from the ED or someone else there
any of these things can easily "add" thousands of dollars, in a sense, to your salary.

Congrats on the gig, and I'd definitely try to negotiate the benes!
posted by manicure12 at 12:59 PM on March 18, 2012

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