A year ago, I never thought that having two employers fight over me would be a bad thing...
April 20, 2012 2:18 PM   Subscribe

I work for a non-profit. A personal friend of my boss is trying to poach me to a much better paying job in the private sector. What is the ethical way to navigate this?

The organization I'm with right now is quite small (6 people) and does very important work in the community. I like my job and I really like the people I work with. I am underpaid, however. Not because I'm under-appreciated, but simply because of the realities of non-profit funding.

A couple of months ago, my boss put me in touch with a friend of hers who needed some work done on a freelance basis. My boss sang my praises to them and said to me: "Just don't let them poach you away from me."

Of course, that's exactly what's happened. A little over a week ago, the CEO of the company my boss's friend works for has approached me and asked if I would be interested in coming on full time. The number he through out as a starting point of negotiation is 150% of my current salary.

I was caught entirely off-guard by the offer and totally misplayed my hand. I said that I was intrigued, but that I had four months left in my contract with non-profit and that I am unwilling to leave them in the lurch. I suggested that I continue freelancing for them in the meantime and we revisit the idea when my contract was up. The CEO seemed fine with this idea, but realistically it seems unlikely that they will hold a position for me that long.

So now I'm considering my options.

Relevant information:

1. My written contract with the non-profit is actually up in just two months, but I have verbally agreed to extend it under the same terms for an additional two months. My boss has expressed a strong interest in keeping me on permanently beyond that and I had told her that I was interested in that as well, but that they would need to find a way to pay me more.

2. The responsibilities of the two jobs are very similar and I think I will enjoy them both equally. They're both at about the same level in terms of my career path. There is no room for advancement within the non-profit though, unless I want to take my boss's job when she retires in a couple of years. I don't.

3. I have not told my boss about the offer, and I don't imagine her friend has either.

4. I've only been with the non-profit for six months and had been unemployed for a while before that. So, if I do jump ship and the new job doesn't work out, my resume will look like a dog's breakfast.

5. Under the current arrangement of me working for the non-profit and putting in 10-15 freelance hours per week for the other company, my finances are quite stable. So, while the income bump would be nice, it's not going to make or break me.

6. One big project at the non-profit is coming to a close over the next couple of weeks, and then another large one, with a three to four month timeline is about to start. I'm supposed to be heading that project and it would cause pretty big headaches for my boss if I left in the middle of it. This is the reason for the verbal contract extension.

So, I guess my questions are:

How ethically beholden am I to my verbal agreement to stay with the non-profit for at least another four months?

Can I reapproach the CEO and let him know I might be available sooner without looking indecisive and flaky?

At what point should I let my current boss know that I am being actively recruited? I know that they can't afford to make a reasonable counter-offer
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What happens if you tell your boss you'd like to complete your verbal agreement, but feel that it's in your best career interests if you leave when your contract is up? Could you freelance for the non-profit for those additional two months?
posted by Night_owl at 2:25 PM on April 20, 2012

How ethically beholden am I to my verbal agreement to stay with the non-profit for at least another four months?

Exactly as beholden as they are to keep you employed for another four months. That is, not at all.

Can I reapproach the CEO and let him know I might be available sooner without looking indecisive and flaky?

Yes, but only once.

At what point should I let my current boss know that I am being actively recruited?

As soon as possible, if you actually plan on leaving. Giving your current boss enough time to find a replacement will go a long way toward ameliorating your loss.

All in all, I'd advise you to take the new job. You've only been there six months -- you're not indispensable. It will hurt to have to replace you, but that's life in the non-profit sector. Don't worry about your resume.
posted by Etrigan at 2:53 PM on April 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

You should do what's best for you, period. That's what companies (including nonprofits!) do, what's best for their bottom line. Employee loyalty is almost always misplaced and would be unlikely to be reciprocated in a similar situation. I find it unlikely that your current employer would keep you on an extra two months based on a verbal statement if they found someone who could do exactly the same work for 50% of what they pay you.

"I'm supposed to be heading that project and it would cause pretty big headaches for my boss if I left in the middle of it. " It's admirable that you are so ethically-inclined. The thing is, employers almost never worry about the "headaches" that will be caused for employees if they let them go at an inconvenient time. Such loyal impulses should be saved for personal relationships, not business.

If you have a legally-binding contract, complete that so you don't get into trouble, and then move on to this better opportunity. Your boss should understand, but maybe she won't since she warned you against "being poached". In fact you aren't big game, your boss doesn't own you, you're an independent human being who has a right to go work for someone else.

And as for #4, don't make fear-based "what if" worst-scenario decisions, those lead to a fear-based restricted work life. If your doomsday scenario happens, you can deal with it. But why not ask "what happens if I'm happy in the new position, and being paid 150% and have room for career advancement?"
posted by parrot_person at 2:57 PM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

So I just quit my job in the non-profit sector for a much higher paying job in the private sector. I felt so bad about it -- I knew I was leaving my bosses in the lurch. Our projects overlap so we're basically always in the middle of a big project. I was in the middle of a contract. The bureaucracy (I work for a small division of a very large company) here is such that -- if they get approval to re-hire for my position at all -- it will be vacant for at least 3-4 months (someone who announced his retirement 6 months ago has been gone for almost a month and his replacement doesn't start until May).

But my current job was low-paying. I wasn't learning anything anymore. My only chance for advancement was up a line I wasn't interested in.

I got a great job offer, and then felt super guilty for several days until I got up the guts to actually go into my superviser's office and resign.

And you know what? They were super happy for me. They were really nice about it. I gave them a slightly long time to work on transition with me, and I'm helping them write a job description for my replacement (my job has changed since I got hired, so my job description isn't really accurate). They're a little bit disappointed, of course, because, well, I'm good at my job, and it will be an increase in workload for them at least for a while. But they understand the realities of working in a nonprofit, and the money, and the turnover, and the lack of advancement possibilities. And they're happy for me.

What I'm saying is, you know, do it.
posted by brainmouse at 3:00 PM on April 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

What does your contact say about what should happen if either party wants to terminate the relationship?

I wrote a long answer, but my computer froze. Short version, what if you give your current boss first dibs if she can quickly get her act together, by having a serious conversation about how you need a permanent job and can't live with month to month insecurity, and that you need to be earning more, and you know how hard she's working to fundrsise so you hate to pressure her, but when will she know whether she'll be able to offer you a permanent position at what salary? Because if she can't sure you a position yet, you (apologetically) kinda need to start at least looking (since you can't afford to go through another period of unemployment and since it can take months to find a job).

That approach is extremely deferential to her and gives her perhaps too much power, but it might help her feel less betrayed if she saw that she wasn't able to provide you with what you need.
posted by salvia at 10:22 PM on April 20, 2012

*sure = offer
posted by salvia at 10:23 PM on April 20, 2012

I am with brainmouse on this. I see it from the other side -- involved in the management of not-for-profits. We know we underpay you. We expect you to jump ship when you get a good offer. We are glad you will take consciousness of our cause into a different part of the world. Yes, we are genuinely happy for you, and grateful for what you have done.

And one of the reasons we can pay you so little is that there are others out there who would like to step into your shoes.

Just go! (And do look back a bit -- one of the sadnesses is not hearing again from people who fought alongside us for the cause. Do let people know how you get on, see if you can help with the things you know the not-for-profit needs like borrowing meeting rooms from your new employer, maybe volunteer a little?)
posted by Idcoytco at 8:14 AM on April 21, 2012

Yes, people do leave, and it's not like a "betrayal of the cause" to go to the for-profit sector, and people are happy when that happens. But that's a straw man; this is a slightly different situation. I do still think the OP should go, and likely sooner than two months. But I would handle it in a way that preserves the relationship.
posted by salvia at 10:11 AM on April 21, 2012

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