upset with size of raise

A reader writes:

I’m on my 6th year of working with the same small nonprofit. I haven’t moved up or down. I’ve stayed at my same position.

Every year they do an evaluation, and every year I get the same raise, 1.5%. Since I have been working here, I have taken on more than my requirements. I have shed blood, sweat, and tears at this company.

I had asked for a 3% increase on my recent evaluation and was denied because I didn’t “supervise” anyone. Is this honestly fair? I also received my A+ IT Technician Certification before my evaluation when I had asked for the raise. My manager denied my raise because she said that other employees in the company that received any type of certification were not given a raise. Is it really fair to base my job and my responsibilities against someone else in the company?

Salaries are based (or should be based) on market value. In the nonprofit world, sometimes that’s also balanced against what the organization can afford to pay; many people accept lower salaries at nonprofits because they feel the work provides other rewards.

1.5% is low, even for nonprofits. This could mean one of several things:

1. Your employer tries to get away with lowballing employees and hopes you’ll accept it, but might give you more if you present a strong case for it.
2. Your employer tries to get away with lowballing employees and won’t budge regardless of the strength of your argument.
3. Your employer, like many nonprofits, is struggling with funding and can’t give you more even if it wanted to.
4. Your employer is open to giving larger raises, but doesn’t believe your performance warrants more.

I have no idea which of these is going on here, but what I do know is that you need to ask different questions when you next talk to your manager about this. Ask directly: “What would I need to change about my performance to get a higher raise?” Maybe it’s not even possible, who knows. Ask and find out.

You asked whether any of this is fair. Fair means compensating you according to your value to the company, based on your contributions there. It’s not really about what your coworkers earn or who has what certification. It’s about the employer’s assessment of your value. If you disagree with that assessment, you have the following choices:

* Ask for more — but this must be presented as the case for why your accomplishments warrant more, not just longevity or certifications.

* Accept it and stay.

* Or, if you don’t you don’t like the salary you’re being offered and the employer won’t budge, go out there and see what other offers the world has for you. You might find one you like a lot better — or you might decide that you’d rather stay put.

Good luck.

{ 9 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    One year I didn't get a raise. Long story but my manager said I wasn't meeting his expectations. That I didn't know about until 6 weeks before my evaluation. I was mad but was about to get engaged and knew leaving wouldn't be a good idea when I had a wedding to pay for an had a lot of vacation time available to me. So I stuck it out and eventually transferred. Two years later I got a 1% raise which amounted to be just over $300 a year. My new manager said she was embarrassed to give it to me but said it wasn't up to her. (Who knows for sure.) I think I was MORE mad about the 1% raise. It was insulting. I told her she should be embarrassed and that I should let them keep the money as they clearly needed it more than me. Sorry to Ask a Manager, but most managers I have seen have a keen way of putting their employees in a category and never wanting to see them outside of it. You're either a favorite or you're not. You're either someone who will take something lying down, or you're not. Good luck trying to change their opinion, it's not likely to happen. If I were you, I'd update my resume and start looking elsewhere.

  2. Ideas With A Kick*

    I think asking for a raise again and bringing some arguments relating to performance (not anything else)is a good idea. It seems to me that you employer uses compensations policies to make excuses. But the policies aren't the most important for getting a raise. They can be changed. Performance is. If after this, you still don't get the raise you want, then you have to decie what is more important for you and take the proper action: working there, or having the salary you want.

  3. Anonymous*

    Many good employees evntually leave non-profit because they feel that they reach the ceiling of what the employer is willing to pay them. Since non-profit industry is always fighing for money and is always short, my experience and observation, employers often try to rather save than pay by all means possible.
    A recent example. A friend of mine has been substituting a staff on the leave of absense and was doing the same job with the same qualifications required. Not only she got a lower rate but actually not all of her work days were paid. The rest of the deal was considered as a "volunteering for a good cause and good employment references".
    If you really want fair compensation for your qualifications, look outside of the non-profit world.

  4. Ask a Manager*

    Anonymous, I think that's an inaccurate generalization. While that was your friend's experience, it doesn't mean that it's true of nonprofits in general. I work for a nonprofit and it's certainly not the case with us, nor has it been true at other nonprofits I've worked at.

  5. Anonymous*

    I fully agree with the statement: "Salaries are based (or should be based) on market value."

    If you find that an employer's assessment of your value is less than your own assessment, then the proper action is to look at the market and compare your salary to other people with the same level of education and experience.

    If you find that your employer is overpaying you, then count your lucky stars.

    However, if you find that your employer is underpaying you, then you have a variety of choices. Is the underpayment enough to make a big stink about? For example, is it a few hundred dollars or over ten thousand? Can you live with that kind of disparity in pay given that some other employer would pay you the higher amount?

    If you examine your situation and you are still bothered, then you are completely justified in going to your employer and presenting your findings. Tell your employer that you want to be fairly compensated for your work.

    Market value is fair compensation.

    You should be prepared to walk away from the job should they decide not to give you a raise. Go get a job that actually values you for what you're worth and then turn in your two week notice to your previous employer. Leaving won't be a bad thing for you since you'd have shown them to be unfair in their salary policies.

  6. Anonymous*

    Non-profit = non-profit. You have to have a deep set reason to work there. Otherwise, look elsewhere to earn market value.

  7. Krissy*

    I do believe it to be an insultment to me, and my work I put in to this company. It's not an appreciation at all for the work that I do. I have been looking every day, and went through a couple interviews already. I hope something comes up where I can really be appreicated for my hard work.
    The comments are great! appreicate everyones input!

  8. Barbara Ruth Saunders*

    I weary of the notion that non-profit means that workers should not be paid market value. Non-profit means that there are no shareholders. That any surplus the operation generates cannot be extracted by some group of owners.

    Labor is different. It is not comparable to stock dividends; it is more comparable to supplies and other business costs. Do non-profits pay less for their notepads? For their desks? For their computers? Sure, they might get discounts or buy cheaper brands, but they do not pay less because they're non-profits.

    Actually, what I think non-profits tend to do is even more insidious than "underpaying." The market works such that it is not really possible to pay much less for the same job; what non-profits tend to do is to downgrade jobs themselves. Thus, the "Marketing Analyst" (mid-level) becomes the "Development Associate" (entry-level) and is paid exactly what other entry-level workers are paid.

    I left the non-profit sector less because of the money per se than because I did not want to be doing secretarial work in my 40s! My "Manager" job was structured a clerical job at clerical pay.

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