There is something taboo and mysterious about salaries. When I decided to do a salary survey of young nonprofit professionals, it was my hope to start breaking down walls of discomfort around talking about our salaries. I expected 10-20 responses and ended up getting over 100. If that’s not a sign that we’re ready to start talking about salaries, I don’t know what is.
It’s obvious from my survey, which is not scientific by any means, that there is a collective sense of feeling undervalued and underpaid throughout the sector—strongest in those with less than five years experience.
As I’m settling into the beginning phase of my career, I’m starting to notice a collective absence of discussion around salaries. I grew up in a household where family members openly discussed salaries, mortgages, bills, etc. Money wasn’t a sensitive topic, it was just a matter-of-fact issue. The lesson I learned from that upbringing? The more transparent and open we are about money, the less control and power money will have over us.
If we can remove the discomfort and hyper-sensitivity when discussing salaries, we might be able to start having meaningful conversations with our employers about salaries and benefits.
I don’t just mean conversations like, “I deserve more money because my friend makes this much.” I mean being able to sit down with your supervisor and talk candidly about the salary range for your position, what’s possible, and what you believe your skills are worth. If you don’t believe that your supervisor is your number one cheerleader and wants more than anything to cultivate and retain your talent, then you might as well begin looking for a new job anyway.
Ideas to help break the salary silence:
Don’t talk about salary in vague and meaningless terms. When we say things like, “I should be making waaay more at my job, I’m so underpaid,” we’re not constructively moving the conversation forward. Build relationships with peers and mentors who you can have meaningful conversations with. Instead, you could say something like, "It's frustrating that my starting salary was $36,000 and I haven't seen a yearly increase over 3%. I think it should be closer to 8% because x, y, and z."
Make a salary pact with a friend. Whether we like it or not, it’s a fact that for most people talking about salaries is awkward. Try being upfront and candid with a friend or mentor that discussing salary is something you would be interested in.
Discuss the full picture. I couldn’t agree more with the comment of one respondent: “I think it's pretty complicated to try to get a full picture of everyone's true compensation levels.” This is where there is a huge opportunity to have rich conversations with a group of friends. If you have a close peer mentor group and are all able to discuss the different aspects, values, and frustrations of your salary and benefit packages, think about how much you could learn and possibly bring back to your employer for a discussion.
We have a lot to learn from each other. If we truly want to advance the salaries in our sector to retain the best talent, we must begin to remove power and fear from the salary equation.
Ok, let's talk numbers:
Here are the findings from my first ever, experimental, non-scientific, nonprofit salary survey!
Less than 5 years experience in the nonprofit sector:
Average salary is $36,915 (they think they should be making $43,772)
Are people with less than 5 years of experience in the nonprofit sector satisfied with their salaries?
Are people with less than 5 years of experience in the nonprofit sector satisfied with their benefits?
Between 5 and 10 years experience in the nonprofit sector:
Average salary $42,085 (they think they should be making $50,143)
Are people with between 5 and 10 years of experience in the nonprofit sector satisfied with their salaries?
Are people with between 5 and 10 years of experience in the nonprofit sector satisfied with their benefits?
Over 10 years experience in the nonprofit sector:
Average salary $55,125 (they think they should be making $65,421)
Are people with over 10 years of experience in the nonprofit sector satisfied with their salaries?
Are people with over 10 years of experience in the nonprofit sector satisfied with their benefits?
Download all the data:
There's a lot more information captured in my survey than represented in the above graphs. Here you can download a complete PDF or Excel spreadsheet. Have fun doing your own number crunching and making your own conclusions. And again, this survey is in no way meant to be comprehensive. A lot of factors go into determining someone's salary: subsector, being a male or female (harsh, but true), size of organization, etc.
Other resources about salary:
- Myth busting: Nonprofit executive salaries
- Minnesota Council of Nonprofit's Salary and Benefits Survey (costs a pretty penny)
- The Nonprofit Job Market: Explore Salary Range by Position
How can you use this data to start sparking your own discussions about salary and benefits?