Advancing Philanthropy

The Issue of Equity and Ethics: Ask For What You’re Worth

Paid Advertisement
typewriter with paper that says know your worth

Asking someone for a million dollars to save the world? No problem. Asking to get paid what I am worth? Big problem.

By all objective standards, I am a fundraising success. I invested over a quarter of a century into my nonprofit career—and have the resume to show for it. I have experience in fundraising, strategic planning and board development, and I am the CEO of a national philanthropic consultancy I co-founded. I have sat in meetings with Fortune 50 executives, high net worth individuals, and celebrities, and I had no problem asking them to stretch themselves to do things on behalf of the organizations I represented. They donated millions of dollars to help victims of disasters. They gave up their precious time to serve on boards. They hosted events in their homes so we could ask their friends for money. The two women’s philanthropy programs I led—one for United Way, the other for the American Red Cross— raised over $1.5 billion (that’s billion, with a “B”) and mobilized over 70,000 women worldwide.

As an introvert, I am proud of the courage I muster to do things that do not come naturally to me because the causes matter than my comfort zone. Even though I hate conflict and will do anything to avoid it, I have no problem throwing myself into the lion’s den of scary people if it means that one less child will go to bed hungry, one young girl will be inspired to dream, or one less person will be held captive against their will.

So why don’t I feel as confident in advocating for myself?

Earlier in my career and whenever I applied for new jobs, I would get tongue-tied whenever a hiring manager asked my salary requirement. I would then end up low-balling myself. I justified that behavior by thinking, “I would be so lucky to land a job at XYZ charity, work my heart out, and some benevolent boss would recognize my efforts and reward me with the compensation I deserved.” Miraculously, I ended up with two notable supervisors who looked out for me—but because they advocated for me better than I did for myself, I never felt the pressure to develop the courage to stand up for myself.

Sensing that I was not alone in this situation, I recently embarked upon a journey with colleagues in the fundraising profession to answer the following questions:

  • Which do you find easier: asking for a stretch gift or negotiating your compensation? Why?
  • What did you do to prepare for your salary negotiations? Were any of your skills as a fundraising executive useful? Which ones?
  • What advice do you have for female fundraising executives who want to become more confident in their negotiation skills?

Negotiating one’s salary is an important step toward closing the gender pay gap in the fundraising profession. According to AFP’s Compensation and Benefits Studies from 2014 to 2018, female fundraisers get paid 10.5% less than their male counterparts. Across five years of the study, women comprised 77% of the survey’s respondents.1

Which is easier: asking for a stretch gift or negotiating your compensation?

“Asking for a stretch gift. It’s a difference between a win for the mission and a win for you.”
—Christian Murphy, Chief Development Officer for the Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta

Before looking into this matter, I wondered if the notion of putting other people’s interests ahead of our own is a gendered concept—or if it was a trait peculiar to me. So, I asked women of different races, ages and levels in their organizations. All but one female respondent preferred to ask for stretch gifts than ask for something that would benefit themselves. I even had one colleague respond that she would prefer a root canal to asking her boss for a raise!

I then tested the question with a male colleague who indicated that neither asking for a stretch gift nor negotiating compensation was a big deal. To him, asking for that stretch gift and negotiating compensation were the same since both situations involved the perception of value. In making a stretch gift, a donor tells a charitable organization that their organization’s mission and work matter. In paying an employee what they are worth, a nonprofit organization is similarly telling an employee that their work matters.

While my survey was a small and informal one, it did suggest that there is something different in how men and women approach negotiating. Karen Dackiw, capital campaign director of the Regina Humane Society in Saskatchewan, Canada (and the only female respondent who preferred to negotiate her salary over asking for a stretch gift), shared that she felt confident in her ability to ask for a raise or promotion because she had a successful experience with it in the past.

That got me thinking—the more women ask for raises or promotions, the more successful experiences they have. The more successful experiences they have, the more confident they will feel about their ability to advocate for themselves. And the more confident they feel about their ability to advocate for themselves, the more empowered they will be.

What did you do to prepare for your salary negotiations? Were any of your skills as a fundraising executive useful? Which ones?

“Know the facts. Look at Forms 990 and the AFP Compensation and Benefits Report for data on how others in comparable positions are compensated. Also be aware that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) get paid as little as 60 cents for every dollar that a white man makes.”
—Karen Paul, CFRE, Director of Development, Science Museum Oklahoma

because of the gender pay gapThanks to grants from The Coca-Cola Foundation, Luna, and the Mooneen Lecce Giving Circle, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) offers a free online course on salary negotiation titled, “Work Smart & Start Smart: Salary Negotiation” (available at

Central to the course are the four steps of salary negotiation, as described by AAUW:

1. Know the facts.

While your facts include things like 990s and comparative studies of compensation, you also need to understand that the gender pay gap is real. According to AAUW, women make an average of 82% of what men earn. But the pay gap widens when you consider factors like race.

It is crucial to know how the role you currently have (or wish to have) fits in context with these global trends.

2. Know your value.

Your value is predicated upon objective facts—metrics that are the result of your efforts. To accurately capture those facts and metrics, it is important to inventory your skills and accomplishments as you acquire them. Fundraisers with the Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) designation can easily track those accomplishments on the CFRE website ( as part of the recertification process. Another great way to document accomplishments is to send yourself an email at the end of the week to document your weekly wins.

Facts matter. We use them in articulating the value of our organization to a potential donor, so why not articulate our value to an employer? I have reviewed hundreds of fundraising professionals’ resumes, and the ones that stand out to me are laden with data that establishes a candidate’s metrics of their success. This conveys two things: (1) the candidate has a track record of success, and (2) the candidate is impact-focused. In addition to knowing your data, I also recommend knowing what industry standards are and being ready to articulate how you exceed them.

3. Know your salary.

Knowing your salary may seem obvious, but your salary is more than what you bring home in your paycheck. It also includes benefits. Common benefits include:

  • Paid time off, such as PTO, sick days and vacation days
  • Insurance: health, dental, life, vision and short/long-term disability
  • Retirement benefits or accounts
  • Healthcare spending or reimbursement accounts, such as HSAs, FSAs, and HRAs
  • Tuition reimbursement
  • Child care benefits
  • Gym memberships or discounts
  • Wellness programs
  • Employee recognition programs
  • Relocation assistance
  • Commuting/travel assistance
  • Telecommuting options
  • Workplace perks, such as recreation activities, food and coffee, and flexible work schedules2

Do you know the monetary value of these benefits? Let’s say you are changing employers and the new employer does not offer a benefit that you currently receive. In this instance, it is critical you add the value of that benefit to the salary you are requesting—or else the real value of your compensation will be lower than what you currently earn.

4. Know your strategy.

Just as you would prepare to invite a donor to make a significant gift to your organization, so too should you prepare as you ask for a raise or promotion. AAUW offers the following tips:

  • Remain positive and flexible.
  • Treat the negotiation process as a conversation, not a confrontation.
  • Show how your skills match the employer’s needs.
  • Avoid getting personal or oversharing.
  • Deflect a salary discussion until you have the job offer.

Practice these skills before your negotiation by asking a friend or colleague to role play with you. You want to be familiar with how you will respond when confronted with a question or obstacle. Just like exercising a muscle, you can develop these skills the more you practice them.

Sarah Cortell Vandersypen, CFRE, vice president of advancement and strategy for the Center for Development and Learning in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, reminded me of a great tip that all of us in fundraising embrace: “Once you make an ask, she who talks first loses.” Do not fill in an uncomfortable silence—or you may find that you will pay for it by getting less than you expect or deserve.

What advice do you have for female fundraising executives who want to become more confident in their personal negotiation skills?

“Wait until the end of an interview session before you start negotiating a salary. Expectations may shift during an interview, based on what you can bring to the table. And be prepared to walk away if a potential employer does not offer you what you are worth.”
—DJ Hampton II, Founder, ALoDay Consulting

Admittedly, many of us may not be in a position where we can do what DJ suggests above—and he acknowledged that. But just like negotiating a salary, promotion or raise gives you the confidence to do so again and again and again, so does having the agency to command what you need and want. If a potential employer does not recognize your contributions at the start of a relationship, that is a good indicator of how your tenure at the organization might play out if you accept less than what you are worth.

If you are asked about your current salary or salary expectations, avoid answering. A salary should only be discussed and negotiated after a prospective employer has extended an offer, and you understand all expectations for the role. Asking about your current salary or salary expectations perpetuates the systemic pay inequities already in place. An employer should pay what the job is worth to the organization. Prepare and rehearse an answer along the lines of, “My salary requirements are flexible, but I do have significant experience that I believe adds value to my candidacy. I look forward to discussing in more detail during the interview process what my responsibilities in the organization would be. From there, we can determine a fair salary for the position. To save time, would you mind sharing what salary range is currently budgeted for the position?”

Those of us who are seasoned fundraising executives have the responsibility to chart the path for emerging professionals in our field. Charting that path requires us to improve our skills and change our behaviors so that we can change systems and serve as effective role models and mentors to those who will follow in our footsteps. By becoming more effective advocates for our self-interest, we will ultimately demonstrate to others the importance of knowing our worth and fighting for it.

Diane Lebson and Christian Murphy recently discussed this topic in an interview they did for AFP’s Women’s History Month events. Listen in as they offer more perspective on salary negotiation strategies and go through the exact steps on what to do—and not do—during negotiations.  

Diane is grateful to the following people who shared their stories for this article, including:

  • Regina Alhassan, Owner, ResearchPRO
  • Kim Churches, Chief Executive Officer, American Association of University Women
  • Karen Dackiw, CFRE, MCIOF, CAWA, Capital Campaign Director, Regina Humane Society
  • DJ Hampton II, Founder, ALoDay Consulting
  • Christian Murphy, CFRE, Chief Development Officer, Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta
  • Karen Paul, CFRE, Director of Development, Science Museum Oklahoma
  • Charu Upal, Annual Giving Manager, The Oregon Zoo Foundation
  • Sarah Cortell Vandersypen, CFRE, Vice President, Advancement and Strategy, Center for Development and Learning

  1. New Research Finds Gender Gap Persists in Fundraising Salaries, Identifies Key Factors in Compensation Levels, Association of Fundraising Professionals, March 8, 2019,
  2. Christina Merhar, “Examples of common small business employee benefits,” October 13, 2020, PeopleKeep blog,

Diane Lebson, CFREDiane Lebson, CFRE, brings more than 25 years of experience in fundraising, strategic planning and board development to her role as CEO of Evergreen Philanthropic Solutions, a national philanthropic consultancy she co-founded in 2018. She is a member of AFP’s Northern New England and Massachusetts chapters and a volunteer on AFP’s Women’s Impact Initiative. Her book, “For a Good Cause: A Practical Guide to Giving Joyfully,” is scheduled to be published in October 2021. For more about Diane, please visit

Want The Latest AFP & Fundraising News Delivered To Your Inbox?Sign Up Now!

Recommended for You

Members: Sign in to view your personalized recommendations!

Sign in