Salary History – Does it matter in development?

hidden-moneyIn fundraising we are always recruiting, especially for development officers. Turnover is an unpleasant reality for which the best non-profits are always prepared. But what does strong recruitment look like? Are we asking the right questions rather than those that are standard? One commonly debated question to ask is about salary history.

Advocates for learning a candidate’s salary history early in the conversation argue that:

  • Someone’s salary provides a clearer picture of his/her true role in an organization. We work in an industry with wildly inconsistent and often inflated titles. Salary can help draw out a more consistent comparison of someone’s experience.
  • Salary history helps the recruiter know if their organization can “afford” this individual. Often salary bands and budgets in development are severely limited and assessing whether a candidate lines up with the projected expenses of the position prevents us from expending resources and investing time in a candidate where salary is a non-starter.
  • Salary history and data help hiring managers advocate for and secure more competitive offers from institutional decision-makers.
  • The discussion around salary helps to shed light on the motivating factors for a potential employee, helping identify fundraisers who are driven more by the mission than their own personal gain.

Personally, I do not find asking salary history to be the best move in recruitment. My primary three reasons against asking about salary history are:

  • Salary history doesn’t always correlate to what a candidate is currently looking for or will accept in their next position. Someone may be actively trying to live in a new city or want to raise their kids in a family-friendly college town or be looking for a healthier team to be a part of, and those factors may weigh more than getting a large salary jump in their next job.
  • Making offers based primarily on previous salaries can contribute to institutional inequity. Take a scenario where you make two strong hires: one from a large institution in an expensive city and another from a smaller, local, non-profit organization. If you start recruitment with salary history in mind you are setting up future colleagues who would otherwise be peers at your organization to come in at different salaries and have a semi-permanent pay gap between them.
  • A strong recruiter should know the industry, its institutions, and its pay well enough to make a mostly accurate assumption about salary based on job history and initial conversations with the candidates. Between the multiple vendors providing salary benchmarking, public universities having to disclose salary information, and the industry knowledge and networks of the current team, the tools for assessing salary are available to anyone recruiting development talent. Having the staff time and team member knowledge of how to utilize those tools tends to be the larger barrier organizations face.

In the for profit world there is currently a divide between the old practice of asking for salary history and the new paradigm of talent shortages. Development mirrors this dialogue. I suspect this conversation is far from over.



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