Money Talk: How to Pay People More without More Money

Photo: Mandy Jansen

Photo: Mandy Jansen

While I am quick to criticize the low salaries found in nonprofits, I realize that sometimes we simply cannot get blood from turnips. Boards and executive directors may want nothing more than to reward their dedicated and hard-working staffs but do not have the money. What then? How do we keep motivating employees without paying them more? How do we show them how important they are without a pay increase?

My answer: lots of ways. Not having money in the budget is not the time to throw our hands in the air and walk away. It is the time to roll up our sleeves, think creatively, and find other ways to appreciate employees.

Paid time off. I know, nonprofits tend to be understaffed and having someone out on vacation can throw a monkey wrench into everyone else’s week. But offering more paid time off is an easy and cheap way to reward and motivate employees. This could be vacation days or mid-week mental health days. Suggest a morning off each week or close early on Fridays if you are unable to make financial pay increase.

Flexible work schedule. For many nonprofit employees, a flexible work schedule is a major advantage. In fact, it may be part of the reason they are drawn to work in a nonprofit in the first place. They value the flexibility to come in late, leave early, go to a doctor’s appointment, and pick up children from school. They also value being trusted to get their job done, even if it is outside typical work hours. Recognize and highlight this benefit to employees.

Delay the salary increase. Things are really tight right now. Maybe a big grant has not come in or you are waiting to hear back from a funder. Ask everyone to delay salary increases by three months if that will buy some time. Employees appreciate honesty and straightforwardness. The opacity of power can be more frustrating than the resulting decisions. Maybe show them the budget and explain what is going on. Let them know that you are not taking a salary increase either. It goes without saying that you should always, always make good on these promises.

Do something. If none of these options will work, do not let good work go unrecognized. Write a letter to them and keep a copy in their personnel file. Take them to lunch. Publicly commend them at a board meeting.Acknowledge that under other circumstances, their performance would be rewarded in more tangible ways.

The thing to keep in mind is that different non-monetary benefits appeal to different employees. Perhaps presenting them with a few options and allowing them to choose would generate goodwill.

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