By Erika Chen, CCF co-founder, Seattle-based activist, consultant, and former development professional

Encouraging equal opportunity to the salary negotiation process doesn’t ensure equal outcomes — it only further legitimizes a system that only continues to perpetuate sexism, racism, ableism, and many other -isms.

A few months ago, the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Global posted this article entitled “The Issue of Equity and Ethics: Ask For What You’re Worth”, which compiled some important statistics on pay inequities in the nonprofit sector:

“Women make an average of 82% of what men earn. But the pay gap widens when you consider factors like race… Also be aware that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) get paid as little as 60 cents for every dollar that a white man makes.” 

However, I took issue with the author’s thesis:

Negotiating one’s salary is an important step toward closing the gender pay gap in the fundraising profession.” 

I mean, sure, women and BIPOC fundraisers can try more negotiation and self-advocacy tactics, but are they really going to close that large of a pay gap? This is systemic sexism and racism, and I really don’t believe that individual salary negotiations are going to solve it. 

Also, this thesis seems to assume that women and BIPOC fundraisers don’t already advocate for themselves like hell. We actually do, but, also, we shouldn’t have to. We cannot and should not have to hopelessly try to negotiate our way to equal pay. 

Instead, let’s consider: How can the nonprofit sector address this on a larger scale and not put the burden on individuals to prove their innate worth to power- and wealth-hoarding white institutions?

When I commented on a LinkedIn post to pose these questions, AFP Global then asked me if I’d be interested in writing a piece for them about pay equity. When I replied to ask how much they compensate their writers, I was told that there was not any money in their budget for paying writers. I, of course, replied that I won’t write a piece about pay equity for free. LOL? 

I actually did laugh, and continue to do so, probably to keep myself from crying and/or cursing. Also, I decided to take my article idea (slash long rant that was building up in my brain) to Community-Centric Fundraising, since we pay all of our Content Hub creators! 

According to AFP Global’s Form 990 from 2019, they raked in about $11.4 million in revenue and ended the year with an approximate $725,000 profit. President and CEO, Mike Geiger, made roughly $500,000 — and yet there were zero dollars in the budget for paying writers?  

What does this show?

  • That negotiation and advocating for yourself doesn’t work when the underlying system of relying on exploitation is built into the budget, which is then used as a cop-out. “Oh, I’m soooo sorry! If it’s not in the budget, we can’t do it!”
  • AFP’s commitment to closing the pay gap is performative. They will put out compensation reports and publish articles that suggest surface level changes without making any internal changes themselves to equitably pay women and BIPOC fundraisers for their efforts.

Encouraging equal opportunity to the salary negotiation process doesn’t ensure equal outcomes — it only further legitimizes a system that only continues to perpetuate sexism, racism, ableism, and many other -isms. The only way to ensure pay equity is to change the system. 

So how can organizations and the sector as a whole enact actual, palpable changes in their structures and systems to advance pay equity? I have some suggestions:

1. Create an equitable compensation policy and be transparent about it.

In large thanks to Vu Le’s multiple articles and the #ShowTheSalary movement, many nonprofits have created policies to list salary ranges in their job postings, including AFP. This is a really great first step. If your organization isn’t already committed to putting salary ranges on all job postings, please create a policy and start doing it, like yesterday.

However, even with salary ranges being posted, there is still a lot of room for inequity. Nonprofits should also have some kind of policy or philosophy that states their commitment to equitable compensation. Of course, for it not to just be another performative statement, the organization should also follow up that policy with standard procedures, like: 

2. Create equitable salary bands. 

Are the listed salary ranges that your organization posts even competitive for the quantity and quality of job functions being asked of the applicant? In order to attract and retain high-performing employees at all levels, nonprofits should consider the nature of the role, the individual’s contributions to the organization, the required relevant work experience and/or education, and local or regional economic conditions when creating position salary ranges.

Do some research. There are free nonprofit compensation reports that come out annually. There are even better, more specific, and local ones that you can pay for. (And paying for them shows your continued commitment to pay equity!) In the Pacific Northwest, we have the Archbright Regional Pay Survey, which even has a specific Non-Profit Report.

Once you have the research, you can create salary bands that are equitable for the specific role in your region. If your compensation philosophy includes a commitment to paying competitively, you can make sure that your salary ranges are on the high end. 

3. Don’t negotiate. 

The next thing to consider is the size of salary ranges. When the salary range is large, it still leaves a lot of room for negotiation. Historically, and based on the still-very-present pay gap, we can see that women and BIPOC fundraisers are paid at the low ends of salary ranges while men and white people are paid on the higher ends. So, the larger the salary range, the more room for inequity.

So, I honestly and humbly propose a policy of non-negotiation. Do not negotiate with any new hires — inform them about your compensation philosophy, your policy of non-negotiation, your reasons for doing so, and the equitable outcomes you are striving for. 

Decide what the salary range is for a position, and also decide what specific experience, skills, or competencies someone would have to have (regardless of identity or whether they ask for a higher salary) in order to justify any new hire receiving the higher salary. 

Here’s a basic example: 

According to the 2020 Archbright Non-Profit Report, in Seattle, the average salary for a development manager is about $65,000. However, that salary goes up to ~$71,000 in the 75th percentile and ~$75,000 in the 90th percentile. So if you are committed to competitive pay, the listed salary range might be $70,000-$75,000. If you wanted to enact a policy of non-negotiation, you could decide that the minimum qualification is 3 years of development experience, which would equate to the base salary of $70,000. If the candidate to whom you are extending an offer has more than 3 years of experience, you could up the offer by $2,500. You could also consider if the candidate possesses skills above and beyond the job requirements. For example, if they have extensive experience and skills dismantling white supremacy culture, which would add positively to the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work you are trying to do, you could increase the offer again by $2,500.

Here’s how you could decide what amount to offer (and not negotiate):

3 years experience >3 years experience Extra DEI experience Salary

If you’re not negotiating with new hires, you also shouldn’t negotiate with current employees every year, which would give them annual opportunities to create internal pay inequities. Always give a cost of living increase. Look at your entire organizational salary bands and make sure they are increasing with the market. You can still do annual performance reviews, just make sure you’re giving raises equitably and that you’re including evaluation metrics based on contributions to an inclusive culture.

4. Don’t just do this going forward. 

Do an internal audit of what everyone on your staff is currently making. Is it equitable? I’m guessing that it isn’t. Fix it.

5. Pay women and BIPOC more.

I believe in equity, not equality. I believe in reparations. If you realize that a woman and/or BIPOC staff person has been making less than their male and/or white colleagues for a certain amount of time, give them back pay. 

Going forward, I believe that women, BIPOC, and other staff from historically marginalized groups should be paid at a higher rate — not based on their identities, but on the skills and competencies that accompany the lived experiences that come along with navigating systemic oppression. They are going to do more emotional labor and contribute more to creating an inclusive culture at your organization than their colleagues that have not had to code-switch their entire lives. Pay them for this additional labor

6. Pay BIPOC board members.

Volunteering is a privilege. Specifically, it is a privilege that many historically marginalized people cannot afford, literally. If your organization is trying to ‘diversify’ its board, consider offering a stipend to BIPOC board members. Again, this would be in recognition of the ‘above and beyond’ nature of what they are bringing to your organization. 

We must fight pay inequity on multiple fronts. We must operationalize it. We must not put the onus on the individual to negotiate equity. We must take responsibility as the people who create and uphold the systems. We must budget for it! Our organizations must ensure their systems are creating equitable outcomes, especially in pay. 

Erika Chen

Erika Chen

Erika Chen (she/they) is a co-founding member of the Community-Centric Fundraising movement. She also volunteers her time as the Appeals Chair for the Seattle Human Rights Commission and as Vice President of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access for AFP Advancement NW. Erika is a consultant focused on racial equity within nonprofit operations and organizational culture, with an emphasis on inclusion and employee happiness. They can be reached via their website as well as on Twitter at @erika_chen, on TikTok at @erikalianchen, and on Venmo at @Erika-Chen.