Job Placements Search

Talking Salary

Welcome back to our series on nonprofit executive search. In my last few posts, I discussed the challenges professionals face around making a decision to leave a current nonprofit employer, reading and evaluating a job description, preparing your resume and cover letter and most recently, navigating the interview. Now we’re ready to talk about the sensitive topic of salary and salary negotiations. This can be tricky, so let’s explore the right time to introduce the conversation and the best way to get to what you need and want from a compensation package.

When is it appropriate to talk about salary?

Let’s be honest, it’s helpful to have a sense of the salary range for a position even before you attend the interview. You don’t want to waste your time, or the time of the employer, if the salary is far below your desired range. That said, it can feel presumptuous to ask about salary too early in the process. What to do?

Ask your recruiter

If you are working with a recruiter, it is definitely appropriate to ask about salary range within the first few conversations. In fact, a recruiter will likely ask about your current salary and desired range fairly early on in the recruitment process. Why? No one wants to waste time on a candidate that is looking for $50k more than the job has to offer. So feel free to address this issue right away. The best way to accomplish this is to say something like, “I hope you won’t mind me asking about salary before we get too far along in the process? I just want to be sure I am not wasting your time and that we are aligned in our expectations about range.” My guess is that they will be expecting the question.

Check the nonprofit job board

If you have identified the position via a nonprofit job board, it’s likely the range will be listed. Most sites ask for this information from employers, but they are not always required to provide it. Read the listing closely and if the range is not listed, or the range is fairly broad (and the bottom of your range is the top of theirs), read on for thoughts on how to introduce this topic early on in the process.

Ask during the interview

If there is no recruiter to give you information about salary and there is no indication in the posting as to the range, it’s ok to ask about it during an introductory phone or in-person interview. But tread carefully here. Do not ask about range in the initial email or cover letter. Wait to see if you get the interview. If the employer asks for a salary history, do provide it – it might save you both some time.

How to bring salary up during an initial phone screening? At the end of your conversation (and only if you are interested in moving forward), say something like, “I know it’s early and somewhat awkward to ask about salary given this is only our first conversation, but since the range was not listed in your posting, I wanted to be sure we are on the same page about expectations so that I am not taking up your time unnecessarily.” DO NOT dive into salary negotiations at this time. Save that conversation for after being offered the position. Just respond as to whether their range is within yours.

Be honest

If the ball is back in your court because they ask you what you are looking for, be honest. It’s ok to give them a general sense of what you are making now and where you are looking to be in order to make a move. It is important not to lie about your current salary – it’s too easy to find out the truth. If you’d rather not disclose it, that’s your prerogative. You can even give a range, given where you expect to be with your next increase or bonus – but don’t artificially inflate it. Sometimes 990s give the truth away, and you will look questionable if you aren’t honest. Try not to be the first one to throw out a number! It’s better for them to set the range and for you to respond to it (than vice versa) because you may come in lower than they had expected to pay.


I hope I have left you with plenty to think about and that your offer is all you hope it will be! Now download our freebie and perfect your salary negotiation skills. I look forward to your comments and questions. Stay tuned in two weeks for a discussion about how to leave a job in good standing….