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How to Negotiate Salaries in the Social Impact Sector.

Craig Zelizer

March 5, 2023

Negotiate your salary? You bet. Here is a quick guide of why is it important and how to succeed at it.

Job searching can be an often long-hard road of job searching, waiting for interviews, going through multiple rounds of questioning, and landing a job offer, take a moment (or much more) to celebrate this wonderful accomplishment. Take a break; go to the movies; call your mum, wife, boyfriend, partner; go for a walk in the park; or do something you like. One of the first lessons in salary negotiations is to take time to evaluate the offer. Although one’s first reaction is to immediately lock down the offer, you might benefit more from a less impulsive approach. In most cases (of course not all), it is normal and expected to take a few days to considering the offer, to raise any additional questions, and to possibly undertake a salary negotiation. For many people working for social change, whether it is based at a nonprofit, foundation, university, or startup, salary isn’t the driving factor in one’s work satisfaction or career goals.

But it is important to look at salary as part of an overall package in considering a job, and also in your personal life situation. As someone who has worked in the social change field for many years, I’ve been fortunate to have been hired multiple times, been through successful (and unsuccessful salary negotiations but learned valuable lessons) and also been on the hiring end many times. Here are my top tips for thinking about a salary negotiation.

1) Do your homework and in most cases try to negotiate – To be successful or achieve partial success in a salary negotiation it is important to do your homework and be prepared. Even prior to getting to a final interview try to get a sense of what are the potential salary ranges that the position might have. For some positions this is relatively easy to find by talking to peers, mentors, if you have a sense of the overall industry, or using platforms such as glassdoor.com. Also, be aware in some industries there may be more room to negotiate than others. For example, in many government positions there often isn’t any room to change a salary offer as there may be a complicated formula based on your qualifications to determine a specific amount. While in other areas, salary negotiations may be the norm. Culturally speaking, it may seem “rude” or “inconsiderate” to ask for more money. This can be true for women. It is not. In fact, asking for more or negotiating is a good way to show that you are a strong individual and you want the best for you and also what you think you rightfully deserve.

2) Determine Your Goal, Alternatives and Walk Away point – One of the most important things you can do prior to starting a salary negotiation is determining prior to any discussions what is your goal in terms of salary, what is your mid-level and what is your walk away point (when the job just isn’t worth it). This can be based on a number of factors such as cost of living, level of debt (from education, housing, etc.), life goals, etc. For example if you have accumulated a high debt from a graduate degree and have to make a sizeable monthly payment or your rent is very high, taking a job that pays only $30,000 in a city like NY or DC may not be feasible.

True Story In one of my first post-graduate salary negotiations I made a huge mistake. I did have the salary goal in my mind and the walk-away point. But I missed out on the critical aspect of mentally preparing myself for asking for what I wanted. Thus, in a third interview somehow out of my mouth came a much lower salary range than I wanted or thought was fair. The employer took this range and offered even lower, and I knew I couldn’t take the position at their offer. I was able to negotiate them back up several thousands higher, but the final amount was at least $3,000 lower than my target bottom line. A key lesson I learned here is don’t unintentionally undercut yourself and believe in your value.

3) Have a Rationale/Argument to Support your Goal – In asking for a higher salary than one that is initially offered, it isn’t sufficient to say please give me more money. You need to develop a compelling argument based on clear criteria that will help convince the employer. Reviewing the job description, looking at key criteria such as skills, languages, etc. are a key way to start. For example, if you have particular language skills, tech or background in a key sector area saying something like “I appreciate the offer for this position. I am very excited about this opportunity. However, given my strong experience in training and curriculum design which include 5+ years, more than 20 programs, and the centrality to this position, I would like to see a higher salary level”. True Story 2 In one job offer the employer offered a salary a bit below what I thought was fair. I highlighted my strong skills and credentials for the position and without any hassle the employer offered slightly a higher salary.

4) Look at the Whole Package Money is only one part of a job offer. Make sure to look carefully at the entire package. This includes the work culture, work/life balance, health insurance, retirement benefits, and advancement possibilities. Many people will decide on a job based on the salary only. However, if you have two potential offers other factors can make a significant difference. Here are two potential offers: Job A Job B Salary $52,000 $46,000 Vacation 10 days a year 20 days a year Health Employee pays 30% Employee pays 10% Tuition $2000 a year $1000 a year Retirement 3% of salary 6% of salary This is a fictional example. But it is essential to look beyond the salary. For example, particularly in the U.S. where health insurance is very, very expensive if an employer covers most of your insurance, vs. only 70% this can make a big income level. Looking at the retirement benefits and if your holdings vest add explanation immediately or only over a period of years is also important. For one of my previous jobs the salary was good, but the overall package was amazing in terms of retirement and vacation.

5) Be Humble Yet Assertive – Salary negotiations are a careful dance. It is important to be assertive and provide a strong argument for why one deserves a higher salary. At the same time, being respectful in the process and treating your potential future employer with respect is important. Try to not come across as egotistical as give me more money, but again focus on the criteria argument. Also I’ve found at times that if a particular salary range doesn’t cover what I would need to live to step out of the interview process earlier. For example, I once had a wonderful first interview for a job in New York City. The organization called back and asked me to come up for an in person interview the following week. I didn’t know the salary range and decided it was better to be transparent than waste time. I asked about the general range and it was far below the level I would have accepted at that point in my career and thus backed out of the interview.

6) Be Aware of the Potential Gender Gap Unfortunately, in many countries (including the U.S.) women are paid less than men for the same work. Also research has shown in many cases women may be less reluctant than men to negotiate a salary offer. This can account for a huge salary difference over the life of one’s career in the hundreds of thousands of dollars in the U.S. for a professional employee. For these reasons, be prepared to explore negotiation, prepare yourself, work with mentors and make sure to at least think about if should you negotiate and if you choose not to have a clear reason.

7) Be prepared NOT to get what you want In one salary negotiation, no matter how hard I tried, the employer refused to budge (it wasn’t a big amount). They provided an argument saying although I was the top candidate I was missing skills in one area. In the end, I had to decide whether to take the job or not (I did). My decision was that overall the job was a great opportunity and walking away over less than $1000 a year wasn’t worth it.

8) Competing Offers Can Help – If during the job search process you have more than one offer (yes, you are a super star) this can help in negotiating a higher salary. Using language like: “I am very excited about this offer, but I do have an offer at X organization with a higher salary range. Can you match this? can help.

9) Try to see things from the hiring perspective When negotiating a salary think not only from your point of view but also try to picture what the hiring official’s perspective might be. Many employers in the social sector want to have employees on board who are treated fairly are likely to stay around for some time, etc. However, there are also competing priorities that include: a) A limited amount of money – No organization has unlimited funds. While more money that goes into salaries is a great investment it can also mean less funds available for programs or other important areas. b) Salary equity – There is also a challenge sometimes that an organization may have a certain salary grade for a particular position. If they pay one person higher than others at this level, this can create inequity or resentment. c) Need to get approval – Most bosses have bosses. While the immediate hiring official may want to pay a higher level, this often has to get approved by others. 

So there you have it. Salary negotiations are important and it's up to you to know to embark on them or not. So be prepared, do your homework, advocate for yourself, be assertive yet humble, look at the whole package and more than anything, congratulate yourself for knowing what is important to you and how to continue to build a successful career in the social change scene. You are a changemaker, start with yourself.

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