where’s the raise I was promised?

A reader writes:

I work for a small (13 staff members), quickly growing non-profit organization. When I received my original offer, I was told that there would be an informal performance AND salary review at 3 months. I made the very unwise decision to not negotiate my starting salary based on this promise, because I looked upon it as an opportunity to show them what I was worth, as well as to determine that for myself.

3 months came and went, during which time the organization was going through some major — but expected — transitions (moving office locations and bringing in a new president), and my promised performance/salary review never happened. At about 6 months, my original hiring manager was asked to leave the organization (on good terms; his position had become redundant). Shortly thereafter, I spoke with our new president about the promise of a 3 month review, to which he expressed surprise (over both the promise of it, as well as the fact that it had never occurred), and said that while he thought I was indeed wonderful at my job, he did not feel prepared or qualified to provide a review, given the short period of time he’d had to observe/get to know me. He asked for my patience as he and the management team devised an official review process, and specifically said that it was something he hoped to have in place “in August.”

I’ve now been with the organization for 9+ (grossly underpaid!) months and have never had a performance review or a salary review. August has come and gone, and still no progress. I respect and admire my boss very much, genuinely love my job, and am confident that I will indeed be reviewed sooner rather than later (around my 1 year anniversary). My question is two-fold: What salary-related advice do you have for those working in the non-profit sector, and how can I come out of this salary review with what I believe to be an appropriate raise, given that I did not negotiate my starting salary based on the promise of a review after 3 months. Had I been reviewed (and bumped up at that time), I would have had another review at the 1 year mark, which would have meant TWO potential raises in the first year, as opposed to one. My fear is that I will come out of my 1 year review with the salary I should have started at — or at the very least should have been bumped up to at 3 months.

I’m well-equipped in terms of a laundry list of my increased responsibilities, and the ways in which I’ve added value to the organization, and also have information about what individuals with similar experience in similar positions at other non-profits are earning, but am seeking your advice on the conversation itself, and how to best present the fact that I’m seeking as significant raise (somewhere in the neighborhood of 15%).

Uh oh. As you probably know, it’s easiest to negotiate for more money before you’ve accepted the job offer. You’ll likely never find it that easy later on. And if you do negotiate an arrangement to review your salary x months in, make sure that you get it in writing — and then bring it up yourself when the time comes (and keep bringing it up until it happens).

15% is a very large raise, and a lot of employers just wouldn’t be willing to do that. You might end up having to chalk this one up to a lesson learned. However, here’s what I think would maximize your chance of getting a larger-than-otherwise raise at your one-year mark: At the time of your performance review, remind your manager that as part of your initial salary negotiations, you agreed to a lower starting salary in exchange for a salary review three months in, with the mutual assumption that by that point you would have proven your worth and your salary would get bumped up. Since that didn’t happen because of personnel changes around that time, you’re now asking for that to be factored into your one-year raise and you believe this would get you back into compliance with the spirit of the original negotiations.

Will this work? Maybe. They’re not going to want you to feel you’re being treated unfairly, but if the person who set this original arrangement with you is no longer there, they also may not want to feel bound by an arrangement they don’t know anything about. I think it’s worth a shot though; just go into it with realistic expectations.

And by the way, make sure you do get a salary review at the one-year mark. If they don’t bring it up, you should.

All that said, I’ll be the first to admit that I am not good at negotiating, so I’m hoping that others will jump in with some input on this one.

{ 2 comments… read them below }

  1. Working Girl*

    Ha. This same thing happened to me, oh, around 20 years ago.

    Yeah, you’re just going to have to chalk it up to “lesson learned.”

    I think knowing how to negotiate your salary is one of the hardest things to do well. The problem is we don’t do it often enough to get good at it.

    The important thing is: Are you happy with your job? Does it make you feel fulfilled?

    Oh, and: Are you earning enough to pay the bills?

  2. Jessica*

    Ew, tricky situation!

    I agree that you’re going to have to approach management and tell them exactly what you want and why. Maybe laying it out as you have here would help, that you expected a raise of X percent after three months and another raise nine months after that of X percent.

    I’d suggest standing your ground as politely as possible for as long as possible. If it becomes apparant that they cannot pay you a 15% raise at this stage, accept it gracefully and ask for a commitment to review your pay in another three or six months.

    If they won’t pay you the 15% raise then I would politely make it clear that working for that amount of money is not possible for you anymore.

    My dad has always told me that one of the most accepted reasons for moving on from a position is money. If you aren’t getting enough of it, you should find a job where you are.

    GOOD LUCK! Keep us updated about how you go!

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