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Do the Right Thing: Salary & DEI

This past October, The Nonprofit Partnership introduced the Nonprofit Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Pledge in order to encourage the sector to move proactively towards implementing DEI practices within nonprofit organizational structures.

NPP seeks to be a partner to our member organizations as they institute practices that encourage more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplaces. We do not have all the answers nor do we pretend to have it all figure out ourselves. With that said, we will not only learn alongside our organizations and change ourselves accordingly but we will also pledge ourselves to support our partners in this and every other realm. Additionally, we will also cease activities in areas that we control that do not advance diversity, equity and inclusion.

Accordingly, going forward, The Nonprofit Partnership will no longer accept postings of positions on our Job Board that do not include a salary range, nor will we post positions that require a salary history from jobseekers.

Why are we doing this and how does it encourage DEI in our sector? Well, eliminating salary histories and requiring ranges are two practices that have been proven to encourage more equitable compensation. 

Let’s start with salary history. Logically, if someone or a group of people is chronically underpaid for the work that they do, then asking for salary history only serves to further that underpayment. Asking for a salary history really only occurs for one reason—so that the organization knows the starting point of the applicant. This will often then inform how much they will offer to that applicant. So, instead of paying that person what they are worth, they are paid based on their historical salary. Well, if their historical salary has been depressed because of inequity and not because of experience or merit, then continuing that trend only continues the inequity, even if unintentional. 

Nonprofits are particularly at risk of continuing this cycle due to the inherent limitations in almost all categories of nonprofit pay. It is ingrained in the nonprofit sector to seek in pay, as with almost every other expense, a goal of getting the highest quality for the lowest cost. While there are many debates related to this, including those surrounding the overhead myth, it is an activity that, while perhaps not intentional, only encourages the facilitation of inequitable pay structures.  

The negative consequences of asking for a salary history are so damaging that 14 states—and numerous localities—have banned this practice over the years because of the data that proves it leads to inequitable pay.  

Many leaders, especially those in the HR realm, argue that asking for salary history creates a more efficient hiring process. They make the case that if the organization does not know an applicant’s salary history, then they cannot deduce whether or not the applicant will accept the salary for the position. They argue that this can create situations where candidates get far into a hiring process even if their salary expectations are incompatible with the budgeted compensation, which is ultimately is a waste of everyone’s time. Well, that is why posting a salary range is the logical redress to this argument. A position that has a salary range posted with it allows candidates to self-select as to their interest in going forward with an application. The most efficient path to ensuring pay compatibility is for the organization to post its expectations and not to expect the numerous applicants to post theirs.

Again, there might be those in the nonprofit sector resistant to providing a range. Remember, we’ve been trained to get the most for the least, and if we publicly state a salary, then we might not get the highest quality candidates. 

A few points here. First, most people will not accept a salary that isn’t in line with what they deserve or require, even in a depressed economy. Hoping that they will or thinking you can talk them into it is a huge waste of time. 

Second, effective hiring practices require that you are realistic, and knowledgeable, about the expectations of the position and the corresponding qualifications of the ideal candidate. Organizations need to be able to determine not only what their budget is for a position, but also what kind of candidate is reasonable to expect for that budgeted compensation. 

Third, getting someone for the least amount you can is a horrible management practice, a terrible way to begin a relationship, and lies at the heart of what creates inequitable systems in the first place. 

The goal of a nonprofit leader in relation to the people they employ should be to highlight their worth and value to the organization and as a professional. The primary way in which you do this as a leader is through pay. While compensation is not the only motivating factor of an employee, especially in the nonprofit sector, it is one of the most significant ways in which you as a leader can demonstrate that you value their work, experience, and contributions. 

The bottom line is that asking for a salary history is bad practice, regardless of DEI. Not including a salary range is a wasteful practice, regardless of DEI. Maybe the point here is that building an organization that embraces DEI is more about following the basic tenets of good management. Doing so creates an environment that naturally encourages diversity, equity and inclusion as well as a positive organizational culture.

Adam Bratton can be contacted at

The Nonprofit Partnership's offices at The Susan Hirt Hagen Center for Transformational Philanthropy are open Monday through Friday, 8:30 AM - 4:30 PM.

Phone 814.240.2490