How to negotiate a raise at your nonprofit job: An interview with Marc Pitman

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Editor's Note: This interview originally appeared on the Wild Woman Fundraising website and is excerpted with permission. You can read the full interview here.

Mazarine Treyz: Hey, everybody. Welcome. This is Mazarine Treyz of Wild Woman Fundraising and I am so pleased to have with us today Marc Pitman, who some of you may already know as the Fundraising Coach. Marc is going to be speaking about how to get a raise or salary increase at your nonprofit fundraising job at the Fundraising Career Conference. I did a webinar for you for Nonprofit Academy, that actually started our whole conversation about empowering people in their careers. It was on what you do in your first 90 days in your fundraising job. I’m really, really glad that Marc chimed in with the fact that people don’t realize how raises and salaries can be negotiated.

Marc Pitman: What’s annoying to me, I think in our space, is that for fundraising in particular but nonprofits also...well, I don't know if it’s because we’re accepting lower salaries or expecting them. I think we’re really short-changing ourselves. In 2003, I moved back to Maine. I’d had six capital campaigns under my belt at that time. So I knew I had been successful. One miserable failure, five real successes, and so I knew I had incredible value to add to a development operation. When I went to Maine, people were eager and thrilled and excited to offer me jobs that were paying me less than I made right out of college. I mean, there’s such a disconnect. And it wasn’t that they needed to pay – they’re not responsible for the fact that I got married and had kids and that my kids like to eat. It’s not like I’m saying that it’s their responsibility for my life’s choices and my expenses. But there is demonstrated value on my career path that they were not willing to enumerate - or they were just so out of touch with what that value is. Do you find that too, in the nonprofit space?

MT: Yeah, definitely. In 2009, I started my business partially because I couldn’t get anyone to hire me, and I had plenty of demonstrated value. But what I found was during that time, people were hiring executive directors, former executive directors instead of development people for development jobs. As well, they were hiring consultants, or they just weren’t hiring at all. Because it was a buyer’s market.

MP: Well, what was weird about 2008 was that nonprofits were so...well, sometimes, bless our hearts, we’re so messed up in our thinking. Some of it was justified, I understand. But in 2008 when the market fell apart, the nonprofits' way of regrouping often was firing their fundraisers at the time they needed them the most. We’re so messed up or misguided in our thinking about what’s program and what’s mission and what’s not, that we fire the people that are bringing in the gas to put in our car. Fortunately, we have the studies now that have reported that the companies or the nonprofits that invested in fundraising or kept at it, didn’t stop fundraising, were the ones that actually recovered more quickly than the ones that cut their fundraisers and marketing staff. It makes sense.

But I think a lot of it was this misguided idea that the revenue generating part of the mission isn’t really the mission. The service isn’t with donors. The service is with whatever our other stuff is, and just the total disconnect that, well, without the donors we don’t have any mission. We can’t fund it or we can’t do it as well with the efficiency or the scope. It’s incumbent on us to tell that story better, I think, as prospective employees and people in our career. So what we’re going to talk about in the conference is taking leadership of your career path. I’m shocked with this employee mentality of people expecting stuff to be done for them. It’s sort of like, well, parents fed me. Then teachers assigned me homework and coaches gave me practice times. Well, there’s got to be a time where you just stand up for yourself and realize, if nobody’s going to do this, I’ve got to do it myself and it’s my life. I get to write what my example of success is, and if I like what I’m seeing modeled, awesome. I can do that.

But if not, those of us in North America, anyway – and many other developed worlds – we’ve got a ton of options available to us and they’re not all about higher salaries, necessarily. It could be more flexibility. It could be project-based work – some people, instead of putting retirement off for 60 years, they’re doing module-ized kind of retirement where they’ll work for a period of time, save up some money, and take six months to a year sabbatical. Then do another spurt. I mean, there’s so much flexibility in our lives now in the 21st century, but it’s not going to be handed to us. We need to stand up and take ownership of that. So that’s what I think getting a raise is all about. It’s defining how do you measure success, and then there are some really, really great ways that you can communicate it to people too.

MT: But you know, you’re right when you say that we’re all part of the same nonprofit and without us, the work doesn’t happen. Your nonprofit is made of your people. It’s not made of just your mission, and if your people are gone, your mission can’t move forward.

MP: The natural inclination is not to see how you can increase your expenses. So nobody’s really going to be putting it on their calendar. No manager that I know of is putting it in their calendar to invite the pay raise conversation. And it’s not because they’re mean. It’s not because they’re greedy. It’s because they’ve got a million other things to do, and the person that’s most interested in the pay raise is you. You need to take leadership of that conversation too, just by saying, “I want a raise.” I mean, the number one reason people make a donation is because they’re asked. The same with raises. A lot of people are invested in their employees. But if things are going well, they’re not going to invite an expense increase.

In my second job, after I had this conversation, my boss told me this particular organization had steps of salaries and ranges within the steps. There were specific descriptions for what constituted the next promotion. He said, “Right now you’re in this particular band of pay and there’s a low end and a high end. I’ve bumped you up pretty close to the highest part of that band. To get to the next band, I need to give you someone to manage and I don’t have that ability right now. We don’t have that in our office.” It was interesting because I didn’t necessarily want that. So it was an interesting juxtaposition, but still good to know.

And part of what I did, I think I shared this with you, is that for my Masters in organizational leadership, my research project was studying boarding schools and seeing how they explained salary and benefits to faculty to retain the ones they wanted to keep. What we found in the study was that there was a slight indication that when you were clear on what your pay raises were, those schools retained the faculty they wanted to retain. More clearly, when it was a don’t ask don’t tell sort of salary thing, it was just this murky black box that nobody really knew if they could talk about. Then it became harder to retain faculty because they just didn’t know how to have that conversation, so they left. Really good people were leaving. It was really sad.

MT: Wow, that is so interesting. I almost wish the people at the Next Level Conference could hear you as well, with this. Because you’re speaking to the senior leadership that they need to have this conversation among themselves.

MP: It feels so awkward at first. There’s a great article on this – I think it was on NPR or Planet Money where there were firms just talking openly about this. Like one firm has a Google doc of what everybody gets paid. It’s just open to everybody, so there’s no question. If you want a pay raise, you can talk about it and see what responsibilities or whatever that you might need to do. But it’s tough for people to move into that, because people that are hiring, they’re always lowballing the salary and seeing what’s the least amount someone will accept for the job.

I offended one guy who was hiring me at a hospital in Maine. After 100 job resumes sent out, interviews and joint venture proposals in one year when I moved to Maine, I finally found a hospital that was willing to pay me much closer to my market value, and I was really impressed that they were willing to invest in that. But when he offered me the position and he told me what the salary and benefits were, and I said, “This sounds great.” Then I said, “I have one question for you.” He said, “Okay, go for it.” I asked, “Am I leaving money on the table by accepting this?”

MT: Ooh.

MP: He got a little offended by that. But I didn’t know if I didn’t ask, and it turns out I had negotiated well – I got like eight weeks of vacation. There were some good things that I got. But it was one of those – I’m a fundraiser. I don't know.

MT: Right, got to negotiate.

MP: As a coach I learned that if you ask permission to ask a tough question, it lessens the blow somewhat. So you could ask, you know, “Can I ask a potentially awkward question?” And at least they’ll be in a different space if they say yes.

MT: Because they agree to this conversation.

MP: Right.

MT: So what I’m hearing you say is that one mistake people make over and over with their raise conversation is just not even having it.

MP: Yeah, that’s the biggest mistake. Then I think the second close corollary that is the result of that is low-grade frustration that turns into this really awful attitude, because they’re not getting valued or they’re not being paid what they’re worth. But it’s because they haven’t brought up the conversation. Or the other side is an over-assumptiveness of damn it, give me a pay increase, without any understanding [of the employer's position]. My fundraising book, Ask Without Fear, has a chapter on Put Yourself in Their Shoes. So it’s just putting yourself in the shoes of the boss. What would make it easy for them to justify to whoever they need to justify a pay increase, a salary increase that’s going to go on forever as long as you’re there? Is it having people that you report to? Is it taking on a new project? What else is there that will make it ridiculously easy for them to explain why they’ve decide to pay you more money. Sometimes it’s actually more time. Sometimes it’s just repositioning the way you do things and managing the impressions of how you’re doing things. It’s a moving target. It’s not a one-size-fits all kind of answer.

MT: Some of us do ask and don’t get the answer we're looking for. But a lot of us don’t even ask. So what do you wish more people realized about getting a raise in fundraising?

MP: I guess part of it is, do you really feel you’re worth that raise? What do you want out of life? Is it flexibility? Is it income stability? Is it more to retirement? Is that a way that people could pay? Would that be an acceptable pay raise? Then why do you think we’re worth it? What are those things that you need for your own credibility? Is it getting your ACFRE? Is it getting your Masters? Is it starting to teach programs locally so that people in the community look back to your boss and say, “I’m so glad that this person is fundraising for you because she’s helping all of us.” Or donors are saying, “I’m so glad that she’s training because she’s protecting donors from really bad asks.” That’s part of what I get to do is keep donors protected from people that are asking really poorly.

I guess what I wish people knew was that. What are the internal criteria they have for justifying the conversation? Because when you start believing in yourself...well, it feels a little weird because we’re often taught not to brag. We’re taught not to think too highly of ourselves, and there’s good reasons for that. We should always remain humble, I think. But part of humility isn’t being a doormat. There’s nothing wonderful about being a doormat, and nothing is going to be accomplished in this world except people’s feet scrape on you if you’re a doormat. So humility is knowing what you’re strong at, too, and being able to accept that you’re really good at this. These three things that I do in my job, I’m really, really good at. That’s something you can be proud of, and it’s okay to be proud of that sort of thing.

MT: I just can’t wait to learn from you and really understand what does it mean to actually ask for that negotiation, even if people are like, oh, well, we can’t give it to you. How do you come back from that? We’ll be talking about that.

MP: We’re going to cover real phrases to say in ways that are respectful so you can assert yourself without being a jerk. A lot of times, we don’t know how to assert ourselves so we take a posture of being jerks, and we need to not do that because being a jerk is not a good way to win friends or influence bosses. So what we’ll talk about is real phrases to say, respectful ways to take leadership of your own position, whatever sphere of influence you have, and ways to ask for the raise and to be aware of opportunities.

MT: Me too. Seriously, for those of you in your twenties and thirties who are listening, and forties and fifties as well, you’ve got to have a plan. You’ve got to have savings. Life is too short to eat ramen every night. I know you know this. It’s got to be better for you. I want it to be, and that’s why I’m so glad we’re having this session.

MP: I’m glad you said that, Mazarine. For me, the questions that we’ll talk about in the session, I asked in my twenties. It’s not something that you have to wait until you’re older in your career. But you’re not too late when you’re older in your career either. I was just listening to Michael Hyatt talk about how we have this internal editor, internal conversations, and these self limiting beliefs that we just need to get out there and write down so we can see how ridiculous they are. But one of his examples was a person in his late fifties saying, “No one is going to hire me because I’m so old.” When he wrote it out, he was able to look at it critically and realize, “That’s ridiculous.” They’re not going to get someone with my life experience and my professional development experience for the rate that they could with me – they’d have to pay a lot of schooling and programs to get somebody new to have the level I have. They’re getting a bargain. So there’s a posture that we can take no matter where we’re at in our career cycle. So that’s exciting too.

MT: Yes, I love that. So no matter what age you’re at, you can still negotiate your raise and your salary. You may have to make a lateral move, but we’ll be talking about that too. So yeah, thank you for bringing that up.

MP: I don’t want it to sound like you have to know exactly what your life goals are going to be and set in stone. It’s just’s kind of like a position on a compass. You’ve got to know where your true north is so that when you’re deviating, you know why you’re deviating. There was one year where I was on the road 226 days out of 365 speaking at conferences and working consulting gigs, and that was a strategic decision for my family. My wife and I chose that that was the right move for that year for our family and knew that we wouldn’t do that again at that intensity. We were off course, but we knew where the path was and we knew we were going to come back to what was more in harmony with our decision with our family.

So it’s just kind of setting some big rocks, setting some priorities. And those lateral moves that feel like the end of the world, every career change that I think I’ve had felt like the end of the world. You go through a mourning process. Like the lateral move we’ll talk about at the session, my move into development felt like an incredible risk. But I haven’t even looked back. I spent the rest of my career in development, found out I loved this fundraising gig. So the lateral moves can seem really risky and scary. It may not have been the path that you thought you were looking at, but it can be even more fulfilling. So being open to those changes too.

MT: Thank you so much. How can people get in touch with you, Marc?

MP: Well, Twitter is always good, @Marcapitman, and my two emails that most people know are either or

Click here to register now for the Fundraising Career Conference 2016. It’s virtual, every session is recorded, and you will have access to all of the recordings after the conference is over!

Mazarine Treyz is the author of "Get the Job! Your Fundraising Career Empowerment Guide." Her popular blog has 50,000 monthly readers. Read more at Join her at the 2016 Fundraising Career Conference.


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