How to Get a Pay Raise at Your Non-Profit

I’m about to cause some trouble.

That’s because I am about to tell you that if you work in fundraising or management for a non-profit, you can – and should – ask for a raise this year.  And, best of all, I’m going to tell you how to go about getting that raise.  Why?  Because you deserve it.

So… do you want a raise this year?  Read on!

You Deserve a Raise

The first thing you need to understand is that the chances are very good that you are underpaid.  The vast majority of non-profit fundraisers, development directors, and other development staff are underpaid, and many Executive Directors and other non-profit managers are underpaid as well.

How can you judge what you deserve to be paid?  I suggest that you do it based on what you contribute to the organization.  For example, if you are the Development Director and sole fundraiser for a non-profit that raises $1.5 million per year, you create massive value for the organization.

Think about it – if a business had only one salesperson, and she sold $1.5 million per year, how much would she be paid?  I guarantee you she would be making more than you are right now.   Likewise, if you’re the Executive Director of a non-profit that employs 30 people and has an annual budget of $8 million, ask yourself what your counterpart in the for-profit world would be making.

Now I’m not necessarily saying that you should be making as much money as you would for similar work in the for-profit world (though there are excellent arguments that you should).  But… you create real value for your organization, your work is likely under-valued, and you deserve to be paid more than you are.

It’s OK to Want a Raise – Even at a Non-Profit

I know many people who work for non-profits who think that it is somehow wrong to want a raise.  That, because they work for a charity, asking for a raise is greedy or stands in opposition to the goals of the organization.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

You have expenses – very real expenses.  You may have a family to house and feed, kids to send to school, personal needs that need to be taken care of.  It’s not fair for you to put in 40, 50, or 60 hours per week raising money for your organization, and then have to go home and count every penny to try to make ends meet for your family’s needs.

In fact, the fact that you need to worry about money constantly is bad for your non-profit … it means that instead of spending all of your creative energy focused on fundraising, you need to dedicate a significant portion of your energy trying to make ends meet.  It’s not fair, and it’s counterproductive for your organization.   It’s OK to want a raise… take my word for it!

You Can Ask for a Raise

I know many non-profits that have “systemized” the process of annual raises.  They hold one-on-one meetings with their employees once per year to offer small raises, and they cap raises in the 3, 4, or 5% range for all employees.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret… if you’re only getting a 3% raise this year, you’re not getting a raise at all.  In fact, you’re barely keeping up with inflation.  Real raises improve your standard of living, they don’t simply keep up with the price of milk and gasoline.

It’s ok to ask for a real raise.  If you’re producing amazing value for your non-profit, it’s ok to go into your supervisor and ask for an additional 5% or 10% in salary for the coming year.  It’s done all the time in the business world, yet non-profit fundraisers and managers are often very timid about doing this exact thing.  There’s no need to be timid.  Here’s how to do it…

How to Ask for a Raise

Ok, you know you deserve a raise, you know it’s okay to want a raise, and you know that you can walk in and ask for raise.  How do you actually make that ask?

1.  Know Your Worth

First, you need to know your worth to the organization.  You need to know what revenue you bring in, what staff you manage, what projects couldn’t get done without you.  In short, you need to develop a case for support for yourself.  You need to be able to layout, with as many facts and figures as possible, exactly why you deserve a raise, and what size raise you are looking for.

2.  Set Up an Appointment

Second, you will need to set up an appointment with your supervisor.  Even if your direct supervisor isn’t the ultimate decision-maker on your salary, my suggestion is to start there, so you can get him or her on your side.  If you are the Executive Director or CEO, set an appointment with the Chairman of the Board of Directors or the head of the compensation committee of the board.

It’s important that you set up an appointment for this discussion.  You don’t want to ask for a raise as an aside to another conversation.  You want the person’s full attention on the question of your value to the organization.

3.  Make Your Case then Make an Ask

During your appointment, lay out your case.  Outline your worth to the organization.  Talk about all of your strengths, and why you deserve a raise.  Then, make your ask.  Make it an actual ask… just like a fundraising ask.  Ask for an exact amount, make it a question, and then wait for a response.

Something like: “Mark, would you be willing to increase my salary by 10% this coming year?”

Once you ask the question, sit back and let your supervisor ponder his or her response.  Be prepared to negotiate, and remember – you deserve it!

successful fundraising asks.


Photo Credit: Bassi Babba


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