Ask Amber: Young nonprofit professionals and starting salaries

By Amber Alarid, JVA Consulting

This week, I tackle the issue of how young professionals can negotiate a reasonable starting salary.

Question: Most nonprofits don’t have much flexibility on salaries (I was prepared in advance for how small mine would be, but I still wanted the job). How do you prepare for and/or negotiate your first salary?

Once again, I make the case for doing your homework. Yes, it’s true that many nonprofits, especially these days, do not have much (if any) room to budge on salaries for entry-level positions. If you know this and still want the job that’s great, but know that there are still ways to make sure you are earning a fair wage and making ends meet. Of course, in order to do that you must know what qualifies as fair pay and what you need in order to make ends meet.

You can then use a myriad of resources to research what other people are making in similar positions. Keep in mind that some salary quotes you get are for people more established in their career. This is why I like to use the CNN Money Salary Calculator; not only does the salary calculator give you an idea of the salary range for that position, but for most jobs, it also breaks down the profession into levels of experience. Based on education and background knowledge of the field and your region, CNN gives you an idea of what other people are making.

If you are from Colorado, another resource is the Colorado Nonprofit Association’s Salary and Benefits Survey. You do have to pay for access to the survey, but it’s a very useful tool for getting a spot-on measure specific to Colorado and the private sector. The company actually conducts interviews with real people in the nonprofit field in Colorado to get an accurate salary range for various positions. If you are not from Colorado or are not able to pay for a Colorado Nonprofit Association subscription, there may be similar resources specific to your state that are easily accessible via Google. Just make sure you are considering your skill level and the budget constraints in the nonprofit sector. Don’t pick a site at random, but use your crafty sleuth skills to find a site that’s trustworthy and accurate.

When speaking with your new employer, make sure to mention that you have done some research about salaries for positions similar to yours and that you know what you bring to the table. Show confidence and passion for the job and the company. Remember, as much as you would love a bigger salary, you want to show your employer you are in this for more than just the money.

Now, as with anything, there is always a chance you might not get your way. As Wendy Silveira-Steinway, JVA’s Recruitment and Staff Development Manager, says, budget constrictions are also affecting benefits packages and vacation time offered to new employees. While it may be a disappointment to get a lower salary or less vacation time, Wendy argues it does not negate the value of the practice you get from negotiating.

So get out there and take a chance. At worst you have learned a lesson about compromise within the workplace. This is especially important for women, who are considered much less likely to negotiate on salary (and also make up a majority of the nonprofit workforce!).

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