The Organizer #9 | Management

How do I talk about salaries without it feeling so awkward? Whether you are a manager, a job-seeker, or a funder, you need to be having conversations about salaries. Focus on five aspects of fair salaries to help you champion your needs and values.

What does a fair nonprofit salary look like?

Talking about nonprofit and social impact salaries can be uncomfortable. Do any of these sound familiar?

“Do you get paid? Because I don’t think it’s right if you get paid to do charity work.”

“We know you asked for $100,000 to run this project. You’ll need to do it for $60,000 or we won’t fund it at all.”

“You can launch this new program in three months instead of 10, right? People can just work a little harder.”

Or how about this one:

“This project is incredibly important. If I can’t pull it off, many people won’t get the help they need. I have t to make this work.”

There are a lot of pressures unique to the nonprofit sector that push salaries downwards. People think there’s a romance to low wages, something noble and heroic and about sacrifice. There’s an under-appreciation for care work. There’s a lack of regard for work that doesn’t generate profit. And there genuinely aren’t enough dollars on the table.

You can’t plan the future of this sector without talking about salaries, or talk about gender, race, or equity without talking about salaries. You can’t even think about building or joining a team if you don’t think about salaries.

Whether you are a manager, a job-seeker, or a funder, conversations about salaries are going to come up. Here are some tools to help you out.

5 ways to make sure a salary is fair

1. Show the Salary

Maybe it goes without saying, but you need to know what a salary is to know whether or not it is fair. When hiring, this means organizations should publish the salary before they start interviewing people. If the potential salary falls within a range, publish the range and explain what qualifications or experience will affect the offer.

#ShowtheSalary is one way people are pushing for salary transparency in the nonprofit sector.

2. Pay a living wage

People should be paid a living wage for the region where they live and work. A “living wage” is the amount of money someone needs to maintain a basic standard of living in their community.

3. Benchmark your salary

Benchmark reports give you detailed information about normal salaries for different types of jobs. They tell you the upper and lower range for common job descriptions. Benchmark reports show you differences between regions and types of communities (for example, big city salaries are usually higher). They tell you how salaries change depending on the size of the organization and the scope of its work. Some will even provided information about salary gaps by gender, race, or other factors, so you can avoid discrimination.

Benchmark reports usually cost money (usually $250 – $400), but they are invaluable. Organizations should buy updated versions every few years. If you’re looking for work and can’t afford to buy a report, ask employers to share their benchmarking data with you.

4. Adjust for equity

The problem with benchmark reports is that they can reinforce existing inequities. If everyone in the sector is paying women of colour lower salaries, for example, then you don’t want to be “normal”. You want to change the benchmark, not follow it.

For an overview of race-related issues and salary gaps in the United States, start with the Race to Lead report.

For a race and gender analysis focused on the Ontario nonprofit sector, start with the Decent Work for Women report.

5. Check the organization’s wage ratio

An organization’s “wage ratio” compares the highest salary in an organization to the lowest salary (or group of salaries).

For example, a ratio of 3:1 means that if the lowest-paid employee earned $45,000, then the highest paid employee wouldn’t earn more than $135,000. Nonprofit organizations are encouraged to keep the ratio close.

Nonprofit Quarterly provides a good overview of wage ratios and examples from different organizations.

Wage ratios aren’t unique to the nonprofit sector. For-profit business are also encouraged to track wage ratios (it’s even required in the USA). The Wagemark Project recommends an 8:1 ratio to combat growing inequality in for-profit corporations.

Job seekers can often estimate the ratio themselves using government reporting websites. You can find pay data for leaders of nonprofits in the USA and registered charities in Canada and the UK via government registries.

Start somewhere

Policies for setting salaries don’t have to feel personal or awkward or cloudy. If you or your organization find it hard to talk about salaries, hopefully these tools will make it a little easier.

Summary: How to confirm a nonprofit salary is fair

  1. Employers should #ShowtheSalary
  2. Employers should pay a living wage for their region
  3. Compare your salary to others with benchmark reports
  4. Make sure the salary is adjusted for equity
  5. Check the organization’s wage ratio to see the gap between the highest and lowest paid employees

The Organizer is a newsletter for people working to create equitable and sustainable communities. Whether you are part of a nonprofit, a charity, or a social enterprise, this newsletter is for you.

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