Negotiating FTW

Negotiation In ActionI am finishing up an MBA at the University of Saint Thomas, and one of my last classes is an elective on negotiations. I really enjoy it. The readings are on sports contracts and great diplomatic compromises. I enjoy both role-playing in the cases that we use for mock negotiations and the debriefing afterward, where the class analyzes cases from every point of view. These are enriching experiences.

There are some really useful skills that I've picked up in the class, many from Ron Shapiro's book, The Power of Nice. If you are looking for an approachable book on building your negotiation skills, I'd definitely recommend this one. It’s full of memorable guidelines and pithy insights from many years in sports and entertainment negotiation, and it’s a quick read. His “3Ps and a Big L” – prepare, probe, propose, and listen – is as useful and basic an insight as you’re likely to get, and it can be applied to any number of situations we face as young nonprofit professionals.

For example, if you’re accepting a new job or looking for a salary increase, how would you apply the 3Ps and Big L framework?

You could prepare by researching your position’s salary range with the Minnesota Council on Nonprofits Salary & Benefits Survey (there’s a copy in the Springboard for the Arts Resource Center if you need one). You could also use the business and entrepreneurship resources at the J.J. Hill Reference Library to build a better understanding of the sector.

You’d probe your boss or potential employer for what they see as your key strengths, what the needs of the organization are, and what you can do to fulfill those needs.

You’d put together a proposal that shows your value and how it increases the strength of the organization, and that makes it seem perfectly rational that you’d get a raise.

You’d listen all along for new opportunities and the nuances that give you the leverage to make the raise a reality.

Of course, it’s not that easy, but you always have to be looking for the opportunity to make the pie bigger – to be integrative and expansive in your negotiations. And that’s really the key insight from Shapiro: that every negotiation is a relationship-building exercise, and you should be looking to create ongoing benefits. He doesn’t use the phrase “win-win” that we hear so often, but rather “WIN-win,” where we come out ahead but don’t burn any bridges in the process. If you’re clear, rational, and firm, negotiations can plant seeds that bear abundant fruit.

That “WIN-win” resonates with me in my nonprofit capacity. Much of our work is driven by passion, creativity, joy, and a profound desire to make things better. Sometimes the cases that we’ve used in class for mock negotiation are set up as spot negotiations, where we bargain hard to extract the greatest profit out of a single situation, and this is where the negotiations make me feel like a bad capitalist – but a good member of the social sector. As nonprofit professionals, we’re often looking for big wins, and we’re negotiating on more than just a purchase price of, say, 100,000 pheasant eggs.

We can’t completely remove material gain from the equation. Nonprofits are only one step (at most) removed from profit, either through our own earned income, the generosity of individual donors, or the accumulated wealth of foundations. However, our impact is not necessarily measured in the concreteness of cash.

I recently had the opportunity to hear Alberto Ibargüen, President and CEO of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, speak about the launch of the Knight Cities Challenge. In conversation, he pointed out that the Foundation makes grants to figure out what the social trends are, anticipate needs, and adapt our systems and infrastructure. You can’t necessarily capture those things on a profit & loss statement.

In Lady Windemere's Fan, Oscar Wilde asked the question, "What is a cynic?" His response: "A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing." So here’s a challenge for us young nonprofit professionals who are called to do good work: let's find the real measures of our work.

Let's develop more ways to track and share the impacts of dignity, joy, and creativity. Whether it’s tracking audience reactions, shifts in the media narrative, or other quantitative measures that support the stories we know, let’s tease out those measures and use them as bargaining tools, when negotiating the value that we bring to the table. Negotiate FTW.

Photo By Claire Nelson

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