In our new series, “How I Negotiated That” we ask a variety of women how they went about negotiating their salary, benefits, or other non-job related deals.In this edition of “How I Negotiated That,” one woman looks back on her 24-year-old self, and how she navigated the minefield of negotiating a salary at a nonprofit after being told she couldn’t apply for a more senior role that had just opened. Instead of acquiescing, she asked her superiors to review her existing compensation—and in the process, got a $4K pay bump. Here’s how she made her case for better pay.
Who I was when I negotiated
I went from making $28K to $32K
This negotiation was memorable because…
It was my first job out of college as a marketing coordinator at a nonprofit performing arts center. I’d been in the position for a year already and my role had grown in responsibility. It was right around then that the nonprofit announced they were creating a marketing manager position. My supervisors probably sensed I was eager to apply for the role, since they sat me down for a meeting to discuss why I couldn’t (yet) apply for the opening.
My overall feeling of the situation was that it was rooted in ageism, of sorts. I was very young, and while I’d certainly taken on the duties of someone more senior, I don’t think my superiors could see me in a management role. To be honest, it was really upsetting to know that they wouldn’t let me at least interview for the role.
But I was also not going to just let it slide. I felt I needed to say something—anything—that would move the needle in my favor. I told them point-blank that if I wasn’t able to apply for the newly-opened role, I wanted to at least have the chance to review my salary and compensation. Maybe being so “in the moment” was a little brash, but it worked! My supervisor and the HR director agreed to hear me out.
Here’s how I prepared for my negotiation
My research had shown me that whatever argument I made for myself had to be 100 percent merit-based. So, I set about first researching the average annual salary for marketing coordinators at nonprofit organizations. Once I had an idea of the national and local benchmark salaries, I collected all my successful projects within the last year and paid special attention to anything that was measurable. Like, I made sure I could quantify in some way what the return was for the company and tie it back to revenue.
By the end of it all, I actually put together a whole binder of work that didn’t exist before I started! Everything in it was organized to show how much value I had provided the organization within the year. When it came time to make my case and there were questions, like, “Why do you deserve this raise?” I could literally point to evidence right in front of me.
The most difficult part was…
When you’re working in a nonprofit, it’s commonly understood/assumed that you’re underpaid and overworked. Sometimes, it’s kind of a cop out but it’s also very real. There’s thisdelicate balance you need to find when asking foralmost feel like you can’t ask for more because you begin rationalizing in your head, “They’re already strapped! Who are you to thinkyou’re any different than anyone else?”
But that’s the biggest pitfall: assuming that they won’t give it to you. And that’s when you have to remind yourself:Even if that happens, you’ll still be wiser for having gone through the experience.
“I was just a coordinator, but I had to negotiate like a CEO.”
To calm my nerves, I was really prepared for my conversation with my boss and HR. I practiced beforehand and prepared for any and all of the awkward questions I could envision throwing me off my game. That helped so much. But even so, I found myself doubting whether I was on the right track. It was hard keeping a steady level of confidence while they were glaring at me across the table. I was just a coordinator, but I had to negotiate like a CEO.
I was happy that they gave me anything. Nonprofit staff are woefully underpaid and it was a victory to get any money at all. I ended up getting a better job about six months later and having a higher base salary was definitely good.
In preparing for the negotiation, I saw my own worth and what I had contributed to the company. Seeing a binder full of evidence of all you’ve achieved is particularly helpful. For me, it validation that I was (and am) skilled at what I do. I knew I had worked hard and that the company had benefited.
Plus—I used some of those success stories in my interview a few months later.
The experience taught me…
In having to do the homework to show how I added value to the company, I became more confident in what I have to offer as an employee. I sawhow it translates into the real world and how I am making a difference while working in the nonprofit sector.
Preparing for the different outcomes in a difficult conversation—I’ve had to keep doing that throughout my career. You learn it’s not un-comfortable, but it’s a good kind of uncomfortable.
Here’s my advice to future negotiators
Be strong, girl! Own your successes and if you feel like you deserve a raise, then go for it and show it. But, just be careful about how you approach it. I have a friend who wrongly thought a winning approach would include complaining to HR about how difficult it would be go get groceries if she didn’t get a raise. Thankfully my friend ended up finding another job so it was all fine in the end but she still got a big eye-roll from HR. Remember, a case for a raise has to be merit-based.
— As told to Theresa Avila