Nonprofit Salaries | How to Deal When Your Heart and Budget Collide

Nonprofit Salaries | How to Deal When Your Heart and Budget Collide was originally published on Idealist Careers.

Those of us who are drawn to social-impact careers care deeply about the causes our work supports. At the same time, like everyone else, we have bills to pay.

So what do we do when there’s a gap between what we earn and our living expenses? It’s a question that many idealists wrestle with, and it can take many different forms:

  • If I ask for a salary increase, does that pull money away from a program?
  • How do I balance my own needs and the needs of my family against such high-stakes services and initiatives?
  • If I grapple with these questions, does that mean my commitment to my cause and organization is waning?

Without scrutiny, these concerns can take a toll and create an underlying feeling of professional anxiety and discord. Read on for our suggestions on how to process these thoughts and work your nonprofit salary into your overall budget.

Be realistic about your financial needs

Before you can determine whether your current scenario is working, it’s important to get the numbers in front of you. Consider using budget and forecasting apps such as Mint, You Need a Budget, or GoodBudget. There are many options, so grab one that has the features you’ll use.

Give yourself free rein when you develop your budget, and categorize your expenses using labels, such as:

  • Essential
  • Important
  • Reasonable
  • Bonus
  • Excessive

When defining your hierarchy of expenses, take note of whether guilt sneaks its way into the process. What do you allow yourself to have? Is it okay for you to make your budget within the context of your highest aspirations, or do you want to make it in relation to a different standard? What’s your benchmark?

Examine your money mindset

Is guilt a big part of your financial assessment? What about deficiency? Consider whether you really want those emotions to be key drivers in your decision-making process.

As Lynne Twist noted in The Soul of Money, we can’t draw from a dry well. She said, “Who do I need to be to fulfill the commitment I’ve made? What kind of human being do I need to forge myself into to make this happen? What resources do I need to be willing to bring to bear in myself, my colleagues, and in my world?”

As you build out your budget, take note of your nonprofit salary and total compensation package—you may find that what you’re currently earning or aspiring to earn doesn’t fulfill your needs. Here’s where it’s important to examine your thought patterns about money.

Get clear on your underlying beliefs about money and your budget; it will help you develop a strategy to address the gap between your heart and your wallet.

Pro Tip: When considering your budget, research the compensation of your peers by taking our nonprofit salary survey, Idealist Salaries. You’ll quickly find out what those in similar roles are earning at other organizations across the country and can make sure you’re being paid equitably.

Define the value you create

You are not your job description, and your impact comes from much more than the items you check off your to-do list each day. When you can recognize and articulate how your presence makes a difference in your organization, you can assess whether it’s time to ask for a raise.

Here’s an example of the difference between a task item and a statement of value:

  • Task: “Responsible for individual and group counseling for juveniles.”
  • Value Statement: “Use empowering language to connect with juveniles in individual and group counseling sessions, supporting incremental forward progress in clients’ goals.”

Your work matters, and how you do it matters. When you know how your presence amplifies an organization’s mission, you’re positioned to identify whether the compensation (including your salary and other employee benefits) adds up to make it worth your time and effort.


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