How to Negotiate a Nonprofit Salary, with Catalina Rojas

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Do you want to work in the nonprofit sector and still make money? There’s a common misconception that working for nonprofits means you have to give up a competitive salary in exchange for mission-driven work. Our guest this week on the Find Your Dream Job podcast, Catalina Rojas, says that you don’t have to choose between a nonprofit job and competitive pay. By doing your research, knowing your worth, and advocating for yourself, you can have a fulfilling job and the compensation you want.

About Our Guest: Catalina Rojas

Catalina Rojas is the host of the Social Change Career Podcast. Catalina is an expert on nonprofit salary negotiation. She says if you choose to work for a nonprofit, that doesn’t mean you can’t ask for a good salary. Catalina emphasizes the importance of being prepared and knowing what you want before sitting down to salary negotiations. Her advice is practical, actionable, and much of it applies to private sector jobs, too.

Resources in this Episode:

  • Listen to Catalina’s podcast, the Social Change Career Podcast, to hear how professionals in the social change field are changing the world while making a living and learn how to align your own passion with your purpose.
  • For global social change resources, visit the Peace and Collaborative Development Network.
  • Knowing the average salary of the position you’re going after will make you a stronger negotiator. You can find the true salary for positions in your area using online tools that compile this data. Catalina recommends Glassdoor’s salary search tool.


Find Your Dream Job, Episode 161:

How to Negotiate a Nonprofit Salary, with Catalina Rojas

Airdate: October 17, 2018

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life. I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the publisher of Mac’s List, an online community that connects talented professionals with meaningful work.

I believe everyone can find a job they love. But to do that, you need to learn the skills that will help you build a successful career. From professional networking to personal branding, you’ve got to get good at job hunting.

This show helps you do that. Every week on Find Your Dream Job, I talk to a different career expert. We discuss the tools and tactics you need to find your dream job.

Our guest this week is Catalina Rojas. She’s the host of the Social Change Career Podcast. Catalina is an expert on nonprofit salary negotiation. She says if you choose to work for a nonprofit, that doesn’t mean you can’t ask for a good salary.

In my conversation today with Catalina, we talk about why focusing on money makes you a better leader and team member. We also discuss ways you can be creative with compensation. These might include exploring alternatives like sabbaticals and flexible work conditions.

Catalina emphasizes the importance of doing your homework before you start talking about money. Her advice is practical, actionable, and much of it applies to private sector jobs, too.

Want to learn more? Listen in now at the Mac’ List studio as I interview Catalina Rojas about how to negotiate a nonprofit salary.

Catalina Rojas is the director of innovation of the Peace and Collaborative Development Network based in Washington, DC. Her organization engages more than 38,000 academics, practitioners, and organizations around the world.

Catalina is passionate about shaking things up, leveraging connections, and making social change happen. She’s also the host of The Social Change Career Podcast.

Catalina joins us today from Medellin in Colombia.

Catalina, thanks for being on the show.

Catalina Rojas:

Thanks for having me, Mac. I’m super happy to be here and talking to your community.

Mac Prichard:

Well, it’s a pleasure to have you. Our topic this week, as you know, is how to negotiate a nonprofit salary. I’m looking forward to our conversation about nonprofits and money.

Let’s deal with a common perception of nonprofits. Let’s be candid, they have a reputation for overworking and underpaying people, don’t they, Catalina?

Catalina Rojas:

Yeah, hopefully things are changing but in general that’s sort of a characterization. I think it has basis in unreality that nonprofits are a little bit the opposite of what you would imagine a Fortune 500 company would be. Private jets, champagne, celebrating, profits over billions of dollars. It’s different in nonprofits. The mission and being mission-driven is what attracts the leaders of those organizations, the funders to sustain operations, and the potential employees to join teams.

Mac Prichard:

I had a chance to read a number of your blog posts and other articles and you say that people can work for social change and still earn a good salary, can’t they?

Catalina Rojas:

Absolutely. I think that in the past conversations that we’ve had, I’ve been clear with you, and I want people to know that that is a very strong point of view I have, being in the nonprofit for decades now. While that’s a characterization and nonprofit organizations traditionally operate like that, just thinking about money and thinking about salaries actually benefits the organization overall because think about it, if you are paid according to your education and experience, you are then not just focused on, “How am I going to pay rent?” You’re putting your energy into serving the mission of that organization. It’s time that we start having conversations about money and not feeling uncomfortable, and having conversations about money thinking that it’s actually going to help the mission and the efficiency of the team members that are pushing that mission ahead.

Mac Prichard:

What would you say, Catalina, to people working in the nonprofit world or considering a job in that sector that might think, “Well, if I talk about money to my managers, that’s really not part of the culture and I’m not going to make a good impression with either employers or hiring managers?”

Catalina Rojas:

I would say let go of that belief for a second. I’m going to try to explain to your audience as best as possible why I think that. Obviously, there’s ways of asking. You don’t want to sound entitled, like, “I need a Fortune 500 CEO type of salary,” because that shows that you don’t know your industry. But if you’re a person that  wants to argue based on your qualifications, your years of experience, your training, and your salary, you’re actually going to leave a very good impression that you’re an assertive person, that you take care of yourself, but later on down the job, you’re going to be someone who’s going to be passionate about the projects and is going to be championing causes of the organization. Just thinking about money shouldn’t equate to being a greedy person; it’s actually a person who’s grounded in reality, has financial and family obligation, and that, even though salary is probably not their number one reason why they want to join a nonprofit, being adequately paid makes you a better employee over the long run.

Mac Prichard:

Catalina, why are so many people in the nonprofit world uncomfortable talking about money?

Catalina Rojas:

I think it’s just traditionally that it’s mission-driven and it’s about the cause, so traditional people think that, “Oh, because you’re thinking about salary it’s less money for the cause.” I don’t know how to say it other than, I don’t agree with that point of view. I think that you are a team member and you are a valued team member who is part of an organization that without employers, without the different segments of management, implementers, people who are working with customers, whoever is the people that you are serving with, without having you adequately compensated, you’re not going to be able to do a good job.

I think there is a need to really reframe the way we equate talking about money with being greedy, or being part of the private sector, and talk about having happy employees is having employees that are not only making it paycheck to paycheck but also maybe thinking about their future and thinking about saving. It’s not just money, too, but just because you didn’t work sixteen hour days that doesn’t make you a bad employee and you don’t care about the cause. Self-care and thinking about adequate salaries comparable to your industry…we’re not talking about out of the scope here…but thinking about having some form of work-life balance, some form of adequate salary and compensation will actually contribute to the overall health of the employees which are the engine of the mission of that organization.

Mac Prichard:

Both managers and employees need to get over this attitude, which is often prevalent in many organizations, that you shouldn’t ask about money and you need to focus on the mission alone and put that first.

Let’s talk about salary negotiation, and I want to get pretty tactical in a moment, but first, talk about the difference…Do you recommend, and I know you work with so many social change leaders through your work at the Peace and Collaborative Development Network, do you recommend that nonprofit employees and managers take a different approach to salary negotiation than in the private sector?

Catalina Rojas:

I think that whether you’re negotiating in a private sector or in a nonprofit, you’re kind of basically doing the same dance around, the context is just different. It is important that, if I were to hire you, I would want to make sure you actually know which industry you’re getting into, whether you are in the extracting mining industry, or working for local communities in rural Columbia. I want to know that you know the industry, you’ve come prepared, but in general, I think there’s a series of steps whether you’re going for a finance job or a very small nonprofit. You need to do your homework and you need to follow a series of steps to make sure you’re successful in a salary negotiation.

I think that, hopefully, nonprofits, which it’s no secret for anyone that the funding donor mechanism…there is a situation which people call donor fatigue. It is harder to get funds, it is harder and harder to get funds. Nonprofits in a way, need to rethink not only the way they compensate employees but also how they are generating revenue for the different programs and for their employees. In that same vein, I think that when you are rethinking and being more creative in a nonprofit, and when people come to the nonprofit salary negotiation, that they think of the salary negotiation not only in terms of your monetary compensation, but open up and be creative in terms of, “What are the things you can bring to the table that a nonprofit can get creative in order to attract you and make you happy.” I think that if nonprofits want to continue to thrive and grow and serve all of the important missions that they serve, because nonprofits are essential, they have to get creative in ways to attract funds, but also in ways to attract talent.

The better the talent, sometimes the compensation has to get higher, but nonprofits could also get creative and say, “Okay, so, say for every five years that you stay with us, we give you three months of paid sabbatical so you can develop your own passion and grow your skills.” Think about ways that you can be creative that are not necessarily translating to dollars per se.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, I love the points that you’re making here, particularly about the process that every listener should go through when negotiating a salary. Also, your point about thinking about more than money. We’re going to take a quick break, Catalina, and when we come back, I really want to dive into those topics and I want to get particularly tactical about how a salary negotiation process should work.

Please bear with us and we’ll be back after this announcement.

It might surprise you to hear this, but when it comes time to talk about salary, many people say yes to the  first offer.

When you do this, you make a choice that affects your finances for years to come. Think about it. Your next annual raise is based on your starting salary, and the raise after that, and the one after that, too. So, when you don’t ask for more money, you give up the opportunity to add thousands of dollars to your future earnings.

As the publisher of Mac’s List, I talk to hiring managers every day. They expect new hires to negotiate when it comes to salary.  But too many of us don’t do it. I want you to get the best salary possible.

That’s why I created a new guide. It’s called How to Talk About Money in an Interview.

I explain how you can find out what the market pays for a job. I also give you tips and scripts for how to talk to an employer about money and benefits. I give you an answer for one of the hardest questions of all, “What are your salary expectations?”

Don’t say yes to the first offer. Go to

Get the salary you deserve. Download your free copy of How to Talk About Money in an Interview today. Visit

Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio with Catalina Rojas. She is the director of innovation of the Peace and Collaborative Development Network.

Catalina, before the break we were talking about negotiating a nonprofit salary. You were making two big points and I really want to dive into both of them.

The first one is, there’s a process that you need to follow when negotiating a salary. Your other idea that I want to explore as well is you need to think about more than just money when you’re having these discussions.

Let’s step back and talk about that process. I’m somebody who’s applied for a job, and I’ve gotten offer, and there’s an appointment to talk about money. What should I do before I walk into that meeting?

Catalina Rojas:

Thank you, I can’t wait to answer that question.

I can’t wait to say that the first thing you have to do is you have been through the job searching process, which is long, and grueling, and stressful, so celebrate, please. Once you get that job offer, even before you consider if you’re going to take it or not, just go out and celebrate in any way you want to or any way that makes you happy. Take your loved ones, your best friends, and congratulate yourself because not a whole lot of people get there.

Then the second step, getting a little bit more serious, “Okay, I celebrated, now let’s see what this organization offered me.” Remember this, it’s okay to take your time. You are not obligated to respond in the next three seconds. It’s okay to ask twenty-four hours, forty-eight hours, seventy-two hours. Give yourself the time, and if possible, the organization that is interested in you, bearing in mind that they are not in this tremendous rush. It’s okay to take some time to ponder because of the third point.

Which I think is very important, you need to do some research. We were talking before about knowing your industry. Obviously, if it’s a tiny little nonprofit that has just started operations eighteen months ago, you’re not going to compare it to a huge salary in some very profitable industry. But it is important that you do your research that, with your qualifications, with the job title that you have, and with other similar small nonprofits, “What is the salary range that people are getting?” There are places,, there are other ones, Mac probably knows a lot about other resources, because you should already, hopefully beforehand, talked a little bit about what were your salary expectations. If that’s not the case, it’s important that when you have this conversation, you have a very clear sense of a salary range.

This leads us to my fourth point which is, a goal number that would be your maximum win. Have a walk away number which is, considering the city where the job is and you would be living, consider what your own financial status, whether you are in student debt, or you have family obligations, whatever it is. What is the minimum amount of money that you can actually do this job?

Mac Prichard:

Okay, so know your range. Know what you’d like to get, and sometimes, I think it’s called your reserve price, the number below which you don’t want to go.

Catalina Rojas:

Yeah, I call it the walk away point, or what you call it, the goal which is your win, and the mid-level, which is… In all honesty, it’s a negotiation and in a successful negotiation no one is going to be happy but everyone is going to have something. Have those figures ahead of time. Also, do a little introspection and analysis on what is important to you. Are you there because… I have a friend of mine who told me, “Growing up, I was in a very financially stable family”, and she needs a very high salary. She actually works in human rights but she needs very high salaries and she needs to make a ton of money because it’s very important for her to always have that. It gives her security.

Someone like me, for instance, I talk a lot about creativity in negotiations because for me, time off is very important in my life. I can go a little bit lower from my mid-level number if I know that I’m going to have every other Friday off and I can telecommute two or three times a day. What is important to you? It’s something that you need to know.

In the salary negotiation, this is probably not one hundred percent on target to what we’re doing, but don’t forget that you are in the process of asking questions to see if the organization is a good fit for you.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, so know your market, look at your city and the organizations of comparable size, what they pay for positions, know yourself and know what your financial needs are, and set a range of the number you’d love to get and the number below which you really can’t go. Be aware of your other needs, like perhaps, in the example you cited for yourself, interest in having time off, or in the example of a colleague you mentioned, the importance of earning a certain amount, and recognizing the psychic importance of that.

I know our listeners are thinking, “Okay, I’ve done that.” Is there any other homework you recommend? Perhaps looking at the financial health of the organization, or talking to peers in the field? Any other suggestions, Catalina?

Catalina Rojas:

Yeah, the financial health of the organization goes very well with my last point, which is, come prepared with questions that are important to you. It happened to me but it happens to many people, it’s a small organization, it could be a giant organization, but there are places where you can actually do some research as to the overall budget of the organization. But it is important for you to ask, how much of their budget have you already raised in nonprofits? For some of you, this might be a surprise, but some nonprofits, for instance, it’s August and they don’t know whether they’re going to have the entire 2018 covered in salaries. Is that something that you thrive with, uncertainty, and you will be part of helping mainstream financial sustainability mechanism, or does that freak you and you really don’t want to deal with that uncertainty, especially if you don’t know if your salary is secure for however long?

I think that’s important. Talking to peers, I think is great. I don’t want to sound, I don’t want to make this generalization irresponsible, but it’s very important for us as women…I say that not just as a woman because I’ve done my fair share of lessons, I have personal lessons of what I would have loved to do better in negotiations, but it’s very important, because in a salary negotiation, a very assertive person, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a man or a woman, if you come across as assertive, if you come across as valuing everything that you’ve done and that you work hard, you’ll actually leave a very lasting impression because you are showing that you value yourself.

Don’t be afraid to do that, that is actually something that is a little bit hard for me I have to say, but it’s important at that point that you advocate for yourself. Especially, because we’re talking about nonprofits and people that are change makers in the world, so the first person you have to advocate for is yourself.

Mac Prichard:

Terrific. I’m glad you brought up the need for assertiveness because I know that research out there shows that there is a gender gap in negotiation. Many women struggle with asking for more money. Any tips you’ve seen that have been effective to help women be even more successful in salary negotiations?

Catalina Rojas:

I think that, really, fully applying all of these steps. To me, the more prepared I am in any situation, whether it is to go and talk in a podcast, or a conference, or to prepare a paper, is preparation. Preparation, I’ve come to this thing over the years, the more prepared I am the less anxiety I have because I feel like I control my environment. Remember all of the people that are behind your education, all the support that your family and friends gave you. This is the time for you to show others how you value yourself.

I think that being very prepared and doing all of this industry research is going to pay off. Don’t be afraid, it’s not going to be perceived as greedy. Let’s go there, Mac, even if someone would make a comment in the interview (which I highly doubt), that you are coming across as greedy, selfish, or not mission-driven, then you have very important data that perhaps you are not a good fit for that organization. Because this is just you advocating for yourself and trying to put a monetary value on all the work you’ve been doing over the years. There’s nothing mean or greedy about it.

Mac Prichard:

Are there tactics in negotiations that you’ve seen just don’t work that listeners should avoid?

Catalina Rojas:

To me, if you are overly assertive, and you don’t argue properly and you’re off base, if you have a salary range that reflects none of the industry, or you are not able to fully articulate why you are arguing for this number instead of what they proposed, then I think it’s not going to work very well. Lack of preparation would be a problem there because if you just can’t argue it and you say, “Well, I want this because I want it.” Or you don’t really fully articulate, “I’ve done all this training.” I would say a very practical tip that I use with my clients as well is, “You have all this training already. When an organization is acquiring you, they don’t have to put all this money and time into all this training because you come with all this already. Looking at hiring you has so much value because you carry all this training and with someone else they would probably have to invest a lot of time and training.”

Being very articulate with the decision of them to hire you, even in the higher range, is an amazing investment in the long run.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, do the homework, invest in the preparation, and have the data and facts to support the points you want to make for whatever number you want are seeking, but make sure it’s based on reality, not just desire.

Catalina, it’s been a great conversation. Now tell us, what’s next for you?

Catalina Rojas:

I am very happy where I am. It’s a small social enterprise and we help change makers around the world. One of the things that we’re very excited that we just recently launched, is the for the first time, individualized career coaching. We specialize in giving career advice in the social change industry. “If you are passionate about changing the world”, is what we said, “We are passionate about helping you.” We see that we are furthering the mission of advancing positive change in the world, if we help your careers and we give you tools to succeed. That’s one of the things we are very excited about. We are hard at work in developing our career coaching for social change leaders.

Mac Prichard:

I encourage people to visit your website, too. I did have a chance to look at it and read some of the articles, and you’ve got some terrific pieces about how to find careers in social change and to navigate different passages like negotiating for salary. I know the website address is

Catalina, thanks for being on the show today.

Catalina Rojas:

I had a great time and thank you, everyone, for listening, and I hope to talk to you soon, Mac.

Mac Prichard:

Take care.

That was a terrific discussion with Catalina Rojas. There were a number of things I liked about our conversation but one thing that really stood out for me was the importance of preparation. She came back to that again and again. Encouraging people to do their homework; find out what the market pays for a particular position, putting together the facts, the data; the arguments that are going to be persuasive to a hiring manager when you’re in there making the case for the salary that you want.

That’s a big part of what inspired us to create our new guide, How to Talk About Money in an Interview. It’s a PDF that you can download for free and you can get it today. Just go to

We’re offering this because we want you to have not only a job that you love but the best salary possible. Our guide will help you to figure out how to do that. Again, that’s

Thank you for listening to this week’s episode of Find Your Dream Job.

Join us next Wednesday when our special guest will be Chris Bray. He’s going to talk with me how you can be unforgettable in an job interview.

Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job!