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Maximizing a non-profit salary

From Rachel Zupek
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( -- Tom Nissly loves his job.

He loves spending time with his wife and two young children, and he loves the difficulty, challenges and rewards he reaps as vice president of finance and administration and chief financial officer of the Chicago Botanic Garden.

"My life quality has improved immeasurably," Nissly says, who decided to trade his high-powered corporate job for a more fulfilling career in non-profits.

A senior manager at a renowned, international consulting firm, Nissly worked 90-hour weeks for 11 years, traveling often, away from his wife and the family they hoped to start.

"It became less about making more money," he says. "I desperately needed to improve my quality of life."

Unlike Nissly, for many individuals who want to make the transition from the business world to the non-profitexternal link sector, it is about making money - maybe not more, but at least some.

Richard King, author of "From Making a Profit to Making a Difference: How to Launch Your New Career in Non-Profits," contends that the compensation issue clarifies the distinction between the corporate business sector and the non-profit sector.

"The common sentiment, 'I'm not in it for the money,' is never more true than in the non-profit industry," King writes. "The fact that people enter the non-profit sector for reasons other than monetary reward defines the value basis on which non-profit compensation in buttressed."

King adds that most business professionals initially face a common dilemma: the chance to pursue greater personal satisfaction and a more meaningful career, versus collecting greater earnings potential and material rewards.

"The great majority of non-profit organization executives do not earn six-figure salaries with substantial fringe benefits," King writes. "Because the chief executive's salary establishes the top pay scale in the organization, most career positions in the non-profit sector cannot compete monetarily with those in the business sector."

Now, the burning questions: How do you determine the value of your business experience to the non-profit marketplace and, therefore, the worth of your background in terms of salary? To what extent can you negotiate compensation when profit objectives are eliminated? Most importantly, what does doing good do for your wallet?

King offers these tips to help get the salary you deserve:

Compare standards

"Some portions of the non-profit world are notorious for practices that pay well below business-world standards, and in some cases, below non-profit norms," King states. "Others actually pay salaries comparable to equivalent positions in the private sector."

King says you can generally predict which side of the compensation fence specific non-profit industries fall by assessing a non-profit's five key organizational factors: Mission, total assets, annual operating budget, number of full-time employees and geographic location or service area.

"In practice, the larger the organization, the more it pays." King also suggests using the Internet to compare salary surveys.

Determine the value of your business experience

"When considering the value of your business skills in the non-profit sector ... relevance becomes the key factor," King writes. "The more relevant your business experience is to the non-profit job you are seeking, the more valuable your business background becomes, and the more likely it is that the compensation level will be competitive with the private sector."

He adds that content-specific business skills associated with jobs in financeexternal link and accountingexternal link are among the most relevant to the non-profit world.

Deal with irrelevant experience

"The fewer transferable skills you have for the position you seek with non-profits, the more likely it is that you will have to accept a salary cut," King writes.

To increase your chances of earning a higher starting salary, King suggests addressing your "life experience equivalency" and competitive pay scales.

Disclose your current salary

Not revealing your current earnings to prospective employers may seriously jeopardize your potential for negotiating a better offer, King warns. Unlike the businessexternal link sector, divulging your current salary might actually enhance your chances to maximize your earnings.

"The non-profit culture values openness and directness," King writes. "If you won't tell the non-profit employer what your current salary and benefits are, the interviewer could conclude that you do not understand how the non-profit world operates."

These tips, along with many more in King's book, helped Nissly improve the quality of his life by switching sectors. "My work is difficult, challenging and extremely rewarding," Nissly says. "I go to work every day knowing that I am making a difference."

Here is how the average salaries for a number of jobs compare for non-profit versus corporate positions:

Attorney/Lawyerexternal link

Non-Profit: $64,105 Corporate: $113,923

Employment, Recruitment, or Placement Specialist/Recruiterexternal link

Non-Profit: $37,815 Corporate: $63,570

Senior Accountantexternal link

Non-Profit: $50,575 Corporate: $61,731

Contracts Administrator

Non-Profit: $53,986 Corporate: $55,417

Human Resources (HR) Specialist

Non-Profit: $39,935 Corporate: $49,318

Project Manager, IT

Non-Profit: $72,282 Corporate: $87,164

Rachel Zupek is a writer and blogger for She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.

© Copyright 2007. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority




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