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You Ask Your Donors for More Money All the Time – Why Don’t You Ask Your Boss?

By Nancy K. Racette, CFRE

(AFP Note: This article originally ran in 2015, but with the release of the 2016 Compensation and Benefits Report, we felt it would be helpful to run it again. As Nancy says below, “Know your worth, gather your data, and plan your conversation.”)

Members: Download Your Free Copy of the AFP 2016 Compensation and Benefits Report

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You have been going through training to be the best development professional you can be. You have learned all about asking the right person for the right amount of money at the right time.  Maybe you have closed your first major gift, or upgraded several donors from mid-level to major giving, or have even started an annual giving program. 

The point is that you are perfecting the art and science of asking. It seems like time for a promotion, or for a raise—to be paid what you are worth. That ask, though, you’re not going to make. In fact, you freeze when you think about it. It’s just not done; people don’t ask for raises in nonprofits. Instead, you keep doing your job, and start to feel under-valued.

The prevailing theory is that those who work in nonprofits do it for the cause, not the money.  And there are many stories of those who have asked for a raise and been denied. Leaders in nonprofits are frequently looking at the bottom line and the overhead costs, and how any changes will be perceived by donors. 

None of that means, though, that you should forego a fair salary for the work that you are doing.  The conversations need to happen, and they should begin with you. 

Where do you start?  How about with the basics of asking for a major gift: prepare, cultivate, engage, plan the right time, get the meeting, make your case, listen and observe, ask, stay silent and wait, close.

When you prepare to make the ask, you do your research on the donor: you find out what interests them, and you match those interests with your organization.  When you prepare to ask for a raise, you should do essentially the same thing.  What are your boss’s interests, where is the organization financially at this moment, and what is your case for getting more money? 

Remember in making this case that from the organization’s standpoint, you have been hired—and are expected—to do a job.  The fact that you are doing it well does not automatically mean you deserve more money—neither does having done it for a long time. And what someone else is or is not doing certainly doesn’t matter.

What is it about then? More money should be about what you will do in the future and what long-term value you can demonstrate to your organization. Just as you ask a donor to invest in your organization, demonstrate to your boss why the organization should invest in you.

Remember that there are best practices to making the ask for a raise, just as there are for making the ask for a donation. You can find many of these practices on Forbes or Harvard Business Review.

Yet as a fundraiser, you instinctively know what to do and you practice it every day. First, be realistic. If your organization is running in the red, it’s not time to ask for more money—it’s time to raise more money.  Timing is everything. 

Know your worth, too. How does your salary compare to salaries at other like-sized nonprofits in your geographical market? Gather your data and plan your conversation. 

And don’t demand. A phrase frequently heard in the fundraising profession is “no doesn’t always mean no.”  It is the same when asking for more money.  Know how you will respond to the no.

So why don’t you ask your boss for more money? THAT is the question to ask yourself. 

Turnover is not good for nonprofits or for the development profession. The average amount of time a fundraiser stays in his or her job is around four years according to the latest AFP Compensation and Benefits Report, but is often lower. The direct and indirect costs of finding a replacement: $127,650, according to research done by Penelope Burke.

These are good statistics to use as you plan your own personal ask strategy. If you feel you have earned more money, then set aside your fear, plan your strategy, and make the case.  The number one reason people don’t give is that they aren’t asked. It is time to consider asking for yourself.

(To help you with your research to make the case AFP has new salary survey products broken out by position and function.  For more info or to order, click here.) 

Nancy K. Racette, CFRE serves as principal and chief operating officer at DRi, which has worked with such organizations as the UN Foundation, the Brookings Institution, the YMCA, the World Wildlife Fund, and AARP, in addition to a wide range of community-based non-profits. She is a Certified Fundraising Executive, a past president of the AFP, Washington, D.C. and Metro Area Chapter, and a past member of the board of directors of the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy. Nancy currently serves as co-chair of the AFP Education Advisory Committee for the International Conference, and as a member of the board of directors of the Ellington Fund for the Duke Ellington School of the Arts.

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