Asking for a raise is difficult for almost everyone. While such conversations may be uncomfortable and hard to navigate, it’s part of being a worker in our lovely capitalist society. It’s perfectly normal. It’s OK. It’s not selfish or greedy or manipulative. It doesn’t mean you aren’t a team player or you don’t believe in the mission. In fact, it means that you are committed to the job and want it to be viable for you long-term.
Keep in mind, too, that raises do not always have to be financial. You have more chips with which to bargain than money. Do you want more time off? A flexible schedule? Greater influence in organizational direction? Knowing how, when, and under what conditions to ask for a raise is an art. Here are some times when it is appropriate to ask for a raise:
When you take on more work. Makes sense, right? More work, more pay. So why do we take on more responsibility for the same amount of money? More times than I can count, I have simply muttered “OK” and shoveled stuff around on my already full plate to make room for a “new opportunity.” Little did I know I would soon be eating the poisonous fruit of bitterness and resentment. I should have said: “Oh, I would love to take this on. It sounds like it will take me a few extra hours each week to finish this task. Could you adjust my salary to include this new responsibility?” Or, if I did not think a pay raise was possible: “I am happy to pitch in and supervise the programming on Saturday afternoons. To make sure I have the time I need to re-charge my batteries, would it be OK if I came in at noon on Mondays?”
When someone leaves and you have to take over his or her duties. If you have worked at a nonprofit for any period of time, you know how fluid job descriptions can be. A common practice that drives me insane is the classic bait and switch when someone leaves an organization. For example, Sally, one of three program managers, quits to grow apples in Vermont. The other two program managers, Joe and Berta cover her duties until she can be replaced. Weeks go by, then months. The ED sees that the organization is not imploding without Sally and postpones hiring someone new. Meanwhile, Joe and Berta are each doing 50% more work for the same pay and burning out. Berta has placed calls to another nonprofit to see if they have any openings. Wait, Berta! Try these options: 1) pester your boss about replacing Sally, making the burden of her absence known 2) since Sally’s leaving left a financial surplus, ask to re-negotiate your job description and salary formally include Sally’s responsibilities or 3) ask for a piece of Sally’s salary until her replacement is hired. Option #1 might work, depending on your relationship with your boss, but options #2 and #3 create a direct financial incentive for supervisors to take action.
Every year. Your employer offered you a salary when you started working. Presumably, this salary was appropriate for your set of skills, your experience, the city where you live, the economy, and the market at the time. But every year, our economy changes. Independent of your performance as an employee, you should receive a cost of living increase that keeps up with the rate of inflation – roughly 3% a year. This is less of a raise and more of an adjustment that keeps your salary at its baseline. Think of it like this: if youdon’t get a raise every year to cover cost of living increases, you are getting an annual pay cut. Employers make commitments to pay employees a certain amount of money and they should maintain these promises. Don’t make me draw you a line graph.
Every year. Just as cost of living increases every year, you also gain another year of valuable, job-specific experience. Your market value increases. Too often in nonprofits, we do not receive the recognition for our growth within our jobs, which is why our industry has astonishing rates of turnover: employees leave their jobs to find proper recognition elsewhere. Such job hopping is usually bad all around. It destabilizes programming, squashes organizational continuity, and can be a difficult adjustment for everyone involved. Good managers recognize the importance of retaining hardworking, dedicated people at every level in the organization. In order to retain you, your employer should recognize that you are more valuable each year. Unlike cost of living raises, performance raises are not automatic. You must be doing a good job!
When you get a promotion or a new title. Again, Captain Obvious, right? Unfortunately, what sometimes happens is this: an organization needs someone to do more work or step into a different (usually higher-up) position but they don’t have the money to pay for a higher salary. They entice a lower-paid employee with a new title or a “promotion” and a vague promise of increased pay down the road. No. All getting a new title does is give you greater bargaining power for your next job (which is undercut by your low salary anyway). Any supervisor who wants to keep you long-term will recognize that Spider-man was right: with greater power comes greater pay. You can show a little flexibility about when the raise goes into effect if you feel generous, just get the date in writing. Otherwise, just politely say that you enjoy your job as it is.
When an organization has had a lot of turmoil. I have been through several mass exoduses (exodi?) in nonprofits. For example, a beloved executive director leaves and within 6 months, half the staff follows her out the door. If you are still standing after this happens, your stock has gone way, way up. You may not realize it yet, but you possess a valuable commodity: institutional history. Knowledge you take for granted has now become scarce. Maybe you know how to run the accounting software. Maybe you know where the paper clips are stored. You are in an excellent position to ask for a raise. Make your value known. Keep a running total in your head of all the times you should have gotten a raise over the last few years and ask for your worth. Plus, the budget should look pretty flush without half the staff, right? Chances are, higher-ups will be eager to keep you happy.
 Performance-based raises and cost of living raises are not the same thing although many employers either pawn them off as the same thing or roll them together.