Do you have special advice for getting a raise in a non-profit?
March 10, 2013 7:07 PM   Subscribe

Getting a raise at a non-profit: I have looked online to no avail for any particular advice targeting non-profits. I don't know if there is a different approach to use or not. But there seem to be particular challenges related to this type of organization. For instance, most of my colleagues do it for the love of the cause, myself included, and we are all underpaid and overworked. Also, I am well aware that our organization is struggling financially.

I have already approached my boss regarding this using the standard tips. I was pretty much derailed mid-pitch with: we don't have any money, times are tough, everyone deserves a raise. . . He said he would talk to the financial board, but no surprise- I have heard nothing. It was my first time asking for a raise, so I was not really on point once he started hemming and hawing.

My main line was that my job description has drastically changed, I have assumed these additional duties for the past year and performed exceptionally well. I have also enhanced a program that is only in it's third year now, so I've added a lot from scratch. I know for a fact that the originator of the grant has been enthusiastic about my work and expressed this both to my boss directly and to others in management.

I am planning to follow up with him with a copy of my initial job description and a detailed list of my additional duties. The rub here is that all my new duties are related to administering this $150K grant, so I know there is money there to give me a raise and I believe it would be inline with the grant to compensate me for the additional work on that project. I would estimate that these new duties occupy 1/3 of my time normally and much more in the busy phases of the project.

They want to keep the expenses of the grant low to funnel those funds towards general overhead. The bottom line is not that we don't have enough money, but that our institutional priorities have shifted towards marketing and other related cash cow departments like special events.

What is the best tactic to take? Should I seek support from other higher-ups? I have considered chatting up our COO regarding this as he has connections to the grant and has been noting my good work on the project.

I have been with this organization for a little over two years as a full time staff. I have had these new duties for about a year. Our department does not receive performance reviews. We do get cost of living increases, but no one has received regular raises in recent history. Other departments are ballooning with new employees, while ours is shrinking. In just the past year two people have retired and not been replaced, this has been an ongoing trend for the past 8 years or so.
posted by abirdinthehand to Work & Money (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
One thing I would try is to call it a promotion/recategorizing of your job rather than a raise. That framing changes the questions of fairness. Everyone is working hard and could use more pay. So giving you a raise seems unfair. Now, your job is nothing like what you were hired for and to replace you, you'd have to find someone with X skills and Y experience and that would cost $zK more.
posted by advicepig at 7:15 PM on March 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Sad to say, but basically, you need another job offer at a better rate to get them to move.

They have told you that your expertise & experience are not valuable enough to reallocate the grant funds. What's the timeline on the disbursement of that grant? Hard to tell from your post, but where you are and the size of your org will matter a lot here. $150k isn't anything to sneeze at, but neither is it very much, esp. if it's a multiyear grant in a mid-sized org in a mid-sized city. And how about how these funds can be spent–are they restricted or unrestricted? Also, once they give you a raise, they have to figure out how to sustain it, including the COLA increases you mentioned. What happens when the 2-3 year grant is gone? I would definitely not go over your boss's head on this unless you regularly find yourself chatting with the COO, and even then, I'd be really, really careful how I played that conversation.

Everything in your past paragraph screams "get out!" They don't see your department as important enough to fund, and your job duties will only grow as they shrink the department through attrition. And not doing performance reviews? That's all kinds of red flags, for you AND for them.
posted by smirkette at 7:37 PM on March 10, 2013 [11 favorites]

I'm a manager at a non-profit.

Don't make it about "deserving" a raise (and don't let your boss make it about that either). Unless you're the single best performer in your organization, there will be others who "deserve" it more, and if they're not getting a raise, you aren't either. Make it about what it'll cost them to replace you. And yes, nothing would demonstrate that more than a better offer from somebody else.
posted by bac at 7:44 PM on March 10, 2013 [7 favorites]

I'm a nonprofit manager. I am sorry to say that I agree with bac and smirkette. This isn't universally true at all nonprofts - I have succesfully negotiated pay & benefits and given merit raises and PTO arrangements to my teams - but your nonprofit in particular is under financial stress, and they are not going to hand out raises just to keep you around, especially if your skills are easily replaceable in what's essentially a buyer's market. So figure out what it would cost to replace your skills and bargain from there.

The rub here is that all my new duties are related to administering this $150K grant,

So, do you know whether you're being paid out of this grant? If they're shifting your payroll costs over to these, even as indirects, your job could be at risk when it runs out.

Our department does not receive performance reviews.

Insist on that. Even if you can't get any money. You need a record of your performance on file with this company to get future jobs. Insist on it. It's basic.

Other departments are ballooning with new employees, while ours is shrinking. In just the past year two people have retired and not been replaced, this has been an ongoing trend for the past 8 years or so.

It's possible your organization is minimizing or phasing out your division, and possible the grant is the only thing, or one of the only things, keeping it alive. Long-term disinvestment in your group isn't in your imagination, and it doesn't bode well for your efforts being valued institutionally enough to find more money for you in the budget.

In short...have a Plan B. This place doesn't sound like it's proceeding in the direction of future financial health and better support from the employees, and living on soft money is a dangerous game. It really sounds like some writing is on the wall and your not being able to get a raise is just an early sign of it.
posted by Miko at 7:50 PM on March 10, 2013 [8 favorites]

Also: do you work for a US non-profit? Have you checked out the 990 for your org on Guidestar or the like? Always illuminating.
posted by smirkette at 7:54 PM on March 10, 2013 [5 favorites]

I work in nonprofit as well. (Sadly, your story is pretty much the norm right now.)

My thoughts are similar to Miko's. If you're being paid out of the grant, you might get a raise now (at least in theory), but it would go away, or you'd be laid off, when the grant runs out. Unless the grant is a general operating grant (but it sounds like it's for your program specifically) they can't funnel it back to general overhead for the organization.

I'm sure you're deserving, but most people are, as you say, in it for the "love" and not the money. It makes it tough to play hardball.
posted by loveyallaround at 8:03 PM on March 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Don't look at the 990, it will make you angry/nauseated how much the top people at your company make, and it's not relevant.

I would see if you can get your job reclassified or get it turned in to a promotion, then that might work with giving you a raise. And even if not, a promotion looks good on your resume.
posted by radioamy at 8:45 PM on March 10, 2013

One strategy, if they really won't budge, is to try get a promotion in your title. Some form of recognition that your job has changed. Example: project associate to project manager or senior project associate or deputy project director. This won't cost them anything but helps you on your resume. Then you can keep looking for another job.
posted by dottiechang at 9:14 PM on March 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm afraid that in my experience, I had to move to a different organization to get a raise. On the plus side, my title is a lot closer to what I do and what I want to be doing and my raise was about 20%.
posted by kat518 at 10:17 PM on March 10, 2013

N-thing those suggesting a title bump. That said, I just got a modest raise and title bump for a great employee, and she's leaving anyway. In my experience as both a manager and an employee, effective negotiating means you are willing to leave your current job in order to pursue the best opportunities and receive fair compensation.

Even if you are not looking to move immediately, if it were me, I would be saying "what do I need to get from this job in order to be ready for my next job? This grant will run out in XX months."

Finally, as a fundraiser myself, I encourage you to see marketing and special events as revenue generation opportunities. They cost money, yes, but they raise the profile of the organization and bring in non-grant revenue, which is a good thing.
posted by deliriouscool at 6:49 AM on March 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

One thing my sister did, when changing jobs to a place that couldn't afford her was to decrease her hours.

So she's making less, but she only works 30 hours a week.

If it were me though, I'd get another job. The problem with non-profit, is that they'll take advantage. They'll give you more and more responsibility and there will never be enough money to give you a raise.

For some reason, non-profits think that you being there is some sort of volunteer position.

My dad worked in the non profit sector for decades and pretty much always made the same money.

Sad, but true.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:52 AM on March 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

You need to frame an argument/presentation in terms of why it is in *their* interest to pay you more. This is a subtle thing, having to do with, perhaps, the long-term health of the organization, your ability to continue to perform well undistracted by (whatever you'd otherwise be distracted by), attracting top talent in general, etc. You'll have to overcome their objections based on lack of funds, others' salaries relative to yours, and non-profit ratings based on proportion of "overhead" (you are overhead).

This is important stuff, and I bet there are lots of writings on the web talking about these issues. If you do a good job communicating this to your boss, you get two pluses: a) he can make a compelling argument to his bosses (the board), and b) you'll get good at some very tricky communicating.

Good luck.
posted by amtho at 7:14 AM on March 11, 2013

Can you find a way to save the organization money, or demonstrate that your work is already saving the organization money (above and beyond what would be saved if someone else was doing your job)? If so, you could make a case for some smallish portion of the savings being redirected to you.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:46 AM on March 11, 2013

From the other side as the employer: I set salaries for my staff in two countries in Asia. We have a (publically stated, so I'm not revealing any internal stuff here) policy in one country that we pay the average for that job, with health insurance and decent staff benefits. I get the average from a national survey and by asking other directors of non-profits in the same size/field their salary ranges for positions. Once a year, I will review all salaries and then I figure out cost of living increases (inflation varies widely year to year), increases because the market range has increased to re-peg them as average, and pay bumps for excellent performance and/or additional responsibilities (usually 2-8%, unless it's a significant promotion).

I don't like doing it outside of that time because then a bunch of other staff will ask for pay increases and when the annual pay comes around, I have to give a much smaller bump to the recently increased staff, and they feel dissed - they have still come out ahead overall, but it's human nature to want to get a raise like the rest of your colleagues. Also, if staff say hey I have this better job opportunity at this new place, I may end up mentally counting them out for long-term development/promotions even if I am able to counter the offer and keep the staff. And sometimes it's just clear that the other offer is a better fit, and I don't counter.

What does work is if they come to me to say that their colleagues in other organisations are getting paid more, and they ask for an adjustment to market rate in line with our policy. I'm also open to paying for more training, negotiating time off, etc. I love having staff come to me with a development plan where they ask for and suggest ways towards a promotion path.

With our grants, the salary portions are fixed. To do an increase, I have to petition the granting foundation to reallocate the funds and justify why. Usually it's just easier and faster to make up the difference from our general funds. A grant is often allocated very specifically with limits on budget changes.

In the other country, I can use the general pay rates for the job scope and take a 20-30% discount for working in an non-profit which is what other non-profits here generally do. I try to offer flexible hours and training and opportunities, but frankly, my two staff there are amazing and dedicated to the cause. The applicants for the positions were 90% driven by the cause to apply, even with the steep pay difference from corporate sector work. I constantly worry about losing them.

If you are in fundraising, you can ask for a percentage-based salary, but quite a lot of non-profits refuse to do that fundamentally either on ethics or because donors don't like it.

You might also try asking for quarterly raises, so the cashflow is not as impacted.

Most of all - you don't have regular performance reviews, your department has had positions cut and the grant funds are being funneled away to general use, and they aren't really cash poor? I would talk to your COO over lunch/coffee, figure out if you're being paid below market rate for your area and job scope but I would seriously look to a new organisation as well. They're not interested in developing you and your department, and that's long-term worrying.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:55 AM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

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