Transitioning from profit to not-for-profit at 40: what's negotiable?
February 10, 2014 10:45 AM   Subscribe

After a decade in for-profit marketing in a secondary city, I'm being seriously considered for something close to a dream job in Toronto. The main issue is that there'd be a major salary drop -- from CAD$75,000 a year to sub-CAD$50,000, and I'd be moving from a place where the cost of living is low, and my house is mortgage-free and paid off, to, well, Toronto. My current location is not commutable to Toronto. What can I negotiate with my (hopeful) employer to help make up the difference?

I will probably get about $120–130K from selling my current house (secondary city!), and will be moving to Toronto with a job for me, but none for my wife, who is a brilliant person with tons of moxie, but a very spotty employment record – barista until our marriage until about five years ago, and the time since then spent in a slow, steady attempt to start an ultimately unsuccessful baking business. Rent in Toronto, in the kind of apartment we'd need and in a neighbourhood we'd like, begins at about $2000 a month. We've looked into living in the 'burbs, as well as Hamilton etc., but our feeling is if we're going to move to Toronto, we want to live in Toronto, and defray rent by not having to own a car, taking advantage of all of the free and low-cost things the city has to offer, etc.

Salary is non-negotiable, and the job is one I'm passionate about. It comes with no benefits, is work-from-home (but requires semi-frequent in-person meetings with board members), and offers four weeks of vacation a year. It's not a job where every second is accounted for – demanding, yes, but the important thing is that the job gets done, not that I am specifically on the clock from exactly 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day.

So the plan for the moment, should I (a) accept that salary and (b) get hired, is to sell my house, move to Toronto, and use the house income to defray living expenses while my wife trains up and then hits the job market. This might take a while; jobs aren't always easy to come by. Our age (40 and 36, respectively) is also freaking us out a little; we don't have much in savings, and this definitely isn't a "plan for retirement" sort of plan.

The vibe from my potential employer is excellent and I really feel like they want to hire me, are acutely aware that they can only offer a very lowball rate compared to my current salary, and are interested in seeing how we can make this work. They pitched me the salary by phone last night, and I promised to get back to them today with a "let's talk more" or a "I just can't do it" answer.

I intend to call back with a "yes, let's talk more" answer, but I want to be sure I haven't missed anything that I can ask for that will help me cope with this much lower salary and economic uncertainty. So far, I've got a short list of "stay where I am for a couple of months to work from here from home, and work on my house to get the best possible money for its sale," "allow freelancing if it's in a non-competing area and doesn't affect the completion of my duties," and "help me find affordable accommodations".

I've never worked non-profit before; I'm excited and enthusiastic about this job, but quite worried about what might happen if we move to Toronto and my wife can't find work. I'd like to get the best terms possible, leaving salary and benefits off the table, but I'm not sure I'm thinking of all the things we should talk about. What else is there to negotiate when money and benefits are off the table?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (33 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Don't want to rain on your parade, but you're going from financial stability to financial instability and that is not such a hot idea.

Yes, you may love the non-profit, but that world is completely different from what you know and what you don't know can bite you in the ass.

Everything depends on fundraising. You job could be eliminated or down-sized if funding doesn't happen.

Your Executive Director could be a loon.

Your board members can be different species of loons.

Working from home in a new city pretty much guarantees that your access to new friends and associates is cut off at the knees.

I want to live in Toronto as much as the next guy, but I'd think twice and three times before doing this.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:56 AM on February 10, 2014 [6 favorites]

use the house income to defray living expenses while my wife trains up and then hits the job market

This is honestly, truly, a guaranteed way to just WOOSH through that money. And then it will be gone and you'll have way more monthly expenses than you do income.

defray rent by not having to own a car, taking advantage of all of the free and low-cost things the city has to offer, etc.

I have lived in downtown Toronto without a car for five years and I totally support the idea of paying more in rent to be without a car but honestly? I can't think of a single free/low-cost thing the city has to offer. Like, we have parks, yes, but what else are you thinking of?
posted by kate blank at 11:05 AM on February 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

What can I negotiate with my (hopeful) employer to help make up the difference?

There is literally nothing that a not-for-profit can give you that will make up for the discrepancies in lifestyle you're facing, other than your own personal satisfaction.

It may be enough to you to have your dream job--that's for you and your wife to decide--but the organization is not going to be able to bridge this gap in any meaningful sense.

You're presumably in your prime earning years; I would personally wait to move to the non-profit sector until you are much closer to, or actually in, retirement, particularly given that you don't have much in savings.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:05 AM on February 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

Jobs are supposed to pay you a net income. You are proposing to take a job that will result in net negative income. This is a bad idea.

Don't move to Toronto and try to survive on a $50,000 salary if you want to live in a nice, two-bedroom apartment close to downtown. As you say, that will cost you $2000/month. You will be burning through your savings. At your age, you should be saving for retirement.

If taking this job is worth a longer commute and less pay, then take it. If not, don't take it. But don't destroy your financial position for this job. If your wife finds a job that will let you live in Toronto in financial security, then you live in Toronto. In the meantime, find a house near a GO station (if your current house isn't near one) and commute into work.

Do not move to Toronto on $50k/year for two people. Not if you want to live in a nice place. You will be stressed. It is not necessary. Living in Toronto is great, but not "eat through my home equity" great. Don't do it. Georgetown is nice and right on the GO line.
posted by Dasein at 11:06 AM on February 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Is there a job for your wife? Really, you should ask.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:07 AM on February 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

Could you negotiate a spousal hire for your wife? That would make a big difference for your family income.

If not, maybe you should try moving either to non-profit in your current area or to for-profit in Toronto. Trying to do both at once is going to be an incredible shock to your buying power and financial situation. You may not like working in non-profit or living in Toronto at all, even if you didn't have to be more frugal there.
posted by grouse at 11:08 AM on February 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you can work from home, how come you couldn't work from home where you live now and do a part-residency in the new location when you have to go to board meetings? You could stay in a hotel for 2-3 nights (billable to the org) or rent a much cheaper apartment that's more of a studio flat/crash pad just for you, and cluster your meetings together. A bonus could be that you continue working at something else in the remaining time you would have.

More vacation time is something I was going to suggest. Also, benefits. Does this organization ever provide any? Retirement investment, professional development?

I know how it is to have a passion, but this sounds like such a drastic departure from your existing way of life, and one you might not really be prepared to weather, especially given that your SO's income potential is unsure. I have had a career in nonprofits and had I not had the benefit of paid retirement set-asides the whole time, I would be fairly panicked by now about my retirement plan. Don't make this decision based only on now, but based on your future goals. What are they? Does this get you closer to them, or take you further away?
posted by Miko at 11:09 AM on February 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Snickerdoodle is so right about the deal being a bad sign organizationally. They are probably looking for a rescue job from you.

What about having them fundraise to increase your salary? You're an investment. You could ask for a 3-year supplement to your salary, and evaluate from there - it's something their development staff, should they have one, might be able to pull off.

Also, what about housing? Some nonprofits do have some form of real estate and can make use of housing to support staff. Others just have great contacts. You could say "What we're facing is a rental market that we'd be priced out of on this salary. Can you offer any housing as part of employment, or work out a reduced-price housing arrangement for us?"
posted by Miko at 11:13 AM on February 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Do not use your house sale money to pay rent. Use your house sale money as a down payment on something in Toronto you can afford to pay the mortgage on with 50K as your total household income. If that's a shoebox, then fine because that is what you can actually afford.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:14 AM on February 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

work-from-home (but requires semi-frequent in-person meetings with board members)

I'm unclear why you can't work from home in your current location and then commute in periodically (even once a week) to meet with the board members. Or even meet with them via Skype, videoconference, or plain old conference call.

If they want you, then they'll take your work on these terms.
posted by anastasiav at 11:17 AM on February 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

I was born and raised in Toronto, lived there my whole life until 11 years ago. 11 years ago I was earning just about what you will be earning, living in a tiny apartment, and barely making ends meet. And that was more than a decade ago, it is even more expensive to live there now.

I am all for following your dreams, and Toronto really is a great place to live in many ways (it's awful in others) but it is just insanely expensive, and the lifestyle change this move would involve is likely significantly more than you might be willing to accept. It's not just rent and transportation that is expensive, it's everything. It may be your dream job, but you may end up living paycheck to paycheck, and that just sucks.

I would look into anastasiav's suggestion.
posted by biscotti at 11:25 AM on February 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Right now, Toronto sounds too risky to commit to. Hamilton is my usual advice to people who want to be nearby, but it's getting expensive, too. The 905 is a possibility if you try some small scale areas with a bit of older housing stock, like Cooksville. Barrie / Orillia might do in a pinch.

Alternatively, find some small but interesting urban centre with a university and a not-totally-brutal commute to Toronto for work meetings AND for evenings/weekends for the both of you. Think Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo, Peterborough, maybe even Kingston.

RENT, don't buy. See how your wife's work options pan out. You may both find something local, but will still be close enough to Toronto to visit, or something terrific could be found in Toronto for both of you after a while.

Good luck!
posted by maudlin at 11:29 AM on February 10, 2014

As someone who has been working remotely for several years, I agree that you should push them to hire you as a remote worker from your current location (assuming you'd be happy with that arrangement). Point out that it would make the salary far less of an issue for you. Also, it's easier to work from home in a house with space for a dedicated office area (versus a one-bedroom apartment).

This very short book has a lot of good suggestions and motivation for companies and workers transitioning to remote work.
posted by mbrubeck at 11:33 AM on February 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

This does not sound like a dream job at all.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:38 AM on February 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Ummmm my ex was making $50k when we lived together. In Arizona, with dirt cheap cost of living, where a nice two bedroom in a good area was $800 a month. I had a baby and stayed at home. He had a bit of debt ($600/m combined) so we lived very thrifty, rarely ate out, I bought clothes at thrift stores and we were comfortable but in no way well-to-do. I cannot remotely imagine paying $2,000 a month for rent on a $50k salary. That is utterly insane to me.

If this is really your dream job, and the happiness of doing what you love is really worth it, find a tiny crap studio that you can actually afford and take the job. But as everyone above has said, you cannot afford the lifestyle you're looking at on that salary.
posted by celtalitha at 11:44 AM on February 10, 2014

I live in Toronto, and cannot even imagine trying to support two people on a salary of $50K. Especially when it seems that there is not really room to grow that salary in the next few years. Unless they can offer your wife a job with a decent salary as well, then I would recommend saying no to the job.

If you currently make $75K in a small Canadian city, you should be able to find a job in Toronto paying closer to $100K if you spend the time looking.
posted by barnoley at 11:56 AM on February 10, 2014

There are always more ways to make more money, but there will not always be more dream jobs to go to.

That being said, that's an insanely small amount of money to live off of. That's 1990's Edmonton money (YMMV). Unless your wife is going to get a job making a similar wage, be prepared to live cheap for a long long time.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:06 PM on February 10, 2014

The work/life balance at most non-profits I have experience with is way the fuck out of wack. They don't care if you're there at 9am or 10am because you're gonna be working 60 hours a week every week no matter what. You might get them to agree that you can do freelance work but I think it's pretty unlikely you'll ever have the time to do it.
posted by Jairus at 12:07 PM on February 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

About the only upside I can see is that a year from now after you're broke and have no friends in a strange city you'll no longer be bothered by that passion for whatever the organization represents. You'd be better off donating $10K a year to these people from your current job.
posted by randomkeystrike at 12:10 PM on February 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Mod note: From the OP:
Given the direction the thread is taking, I should mention that the move is almost definite -- we're both very urban creatures and after giving large-town living a go for a while, we feel it's time to move back to a major centre. My current employer is actually interested in having me there to represent them (we have a lot of clients there, and live far enough away [another province] that boots on the ground would be useful). Plan B, which was to move there with my current job and a salary hike to cover cost of living, then see about transitioning once we were settled and my wife is working, is starting to feel a lot more like Plan A.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:38 PM on February 10, 2014 [10 favorites]

Yes! Do the second thing! Great idea!
posted by mskyle at 12:42 PM on February 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

If you don't have to go in very often for those face-to-face meetings, can't you just commute those days? I have no idea how far from the city you are, but you could maybe stay in a hotel one day a week or month or whatever it is.
posted by GrapeApiary at 1:05 PM on February 10, 2014

The OP lives in another province away from Toronto. You don't "commute".
posted by Kitteh at 1:06 PM on February 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes, your Plan B sounds great!
posted by Dasein at 1:08 PM on February 10, 2014

Rent in Toronto, in the kind of apartment we'd need and in a neighbourhood we'd like, begins at about $2000 a month

I make substantially more than 50k/yr, and paying $2000/month would be a hefty burden for me on my own, much less for two.

A good guideline for rent is to pay 25% of your gross income. Having done that in the past, I can stay that it pinches. I would avoid any thought of paying $2000/month in rent unless your household can bring in $100k/yr, particularly since you should focus on saving for retirement.

As for the non-profit: not taking the job is THEIR loss, not yours, because they're the ones who can't afford you.
posted by deanc at 1:35 PM on February 10, 2014

Regardless which option (Plan A or Plan B) comes to fruition, would it be possible to rent out your current house after you move to the city? Could be a passive income while your wife goes to school/looks for a job.
posted by travelwithcats at 1:35 PM on February 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Plan B for sure sounds like the smart move.
posted by Jairus at 1:48 PM on February 10, 2014

Yay Plan B!! It gives you a chance to acclimate to the city before making any drastic changes. You'll love it here.
posted by barnoley at 2:14 PM on February 10, 2014

Yes, do Plan B. Don't give up on the nonprofit thing if that's what you want to do, but it will be much easier to find a *good* nonprofit job once you are there.

Because I'll echo what others are saying - I've worked in the nonprofit field for 15 years, and the fact that they want you to work from home but require you to move to do so, the low pay, the lack of benefits, all point to the kind of nonprofit you *don't* want to work for. But there are actually great nonprofits to work for.

I actually see this all the time - people want to move from the for-profit sector, and get a bad offer from a non-profit. They assume this must be the best they can expect in the sector, so they either take it and burn out quickly, or they turn it down and give up on working for a nonprofit at all. Which is a shame!

But definitely, Plan B for now.
posted by lunasol at 2:20 PM on February 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Plan A is the first step towards bankruptcy imo. Plan B might be doable.
posted by aroberge at 3:16 PM on February 10, 2014

> It comes with no benefits...

You need to take a look at your definition of a dream job.

In my small US (non-charity) NFP, $50K is senior coordinator/entry-level director level with medical, dental and vision coverage, plus 401K (with 50 cents on the dollar matching) and employee-managed pension contribution (7%), those last two with full vesting in five years.

I suppose it's possible that you can get some non-profit experience under your belt and then move to something more lucrative, but you talk about this job like it's something way more than, objectively, it is.

> lunasol: I've worked in the nonprofit field for 15 years, and the fact that they want you to work from home but require you to move to do so, the low pay, the lack of benefits, all point to the kind of nonprofit you *don't* want to work for.

posted by Short Attention Sp at 4:33 PM on February 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Keep in mind that much of the medical is not an issue because it's Canada.

I wonder if you can move with your current job and moonlight at the dream job. Take on a 6-month interim thing where you consult for them, on the side, don't accept a title other than consultant, don't go on the payroll, but collect a fee. After you've gotten a clearer picture - of everything - you could still transition to that job if it still seems like a good idea to you.
posted by Miko at 5:05 PM on February 10, 2014

I started work in Toronto at 40K/ year back in early 2000s. I had a crappy 1 bedroom (Roncesvalles & King) at $850 / month, old car, and made it work. I couldn't imagine paying $2000/month in rent (We paid $1700/month at Bloor & College in a 2 bedroom with a roommate in 2004) at 50K/year, let alone everything else. Plan B should be your plan A.
posted by defcom1 at 7:37 AM on February 11, 2014

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