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  • Pat Libby

Salary Secrecy

Updated: Nov 19, 2021

Since 2015, Vu Le has been nagging, calling out, tweeting at and otherwise trying to shame nonprofits into being more transparent about their salaries through a campaign called #ShowTheSalary.

If you don’t follow Vu Le, you should. Vu writes a popular blog called Nonprofit AF, which is way more funny, influential, and frequent than my blogs. Most important, it has really great content and many cute animal pictures.

Vu’s main argument for salary transparency is that doing so promotes equity by closing gender and race gaps.

While I wholeheartedly agree (as does independent research), it’s frankly, common sense.

The wacky reason that many organizations don’t list the salary range is because they think they might be able to snag someone at a bargain rate. We know this particularly disadvantages women and people of color.

Or, they don’t post the range because it is way out of whack with what they are paying others within the organization.

If that’s the case, it’s time to do a compensation study and make adjustments throughout your nonprofit. Sure, that’s time consuming and expensive. But it’s also the fair thing to do. If the nonprofit sector isn’t concerned with fairness, who is?

As a search consultant, I won’t, under any circumstances, post a job that doesn’t list a salary range.

Here are my reasons why your organization should post the salary range on your job listings:

1. If you don’t, you’ll turn away qualified candidates who assume the job doesn’t pay much.

This is especially true of sector-switchers who invariably think nonprofits don’t pay very well.

2. You’ll waste your time and that of the candidates you’re considering.

Some candidates might assume the job pays much more than you intend. If so, you’ll go through an entire interview process with them only to find out that they’re not interested in working for less money than they made five years ago. Sure, people are motivated to do good work, it’s just that the vast majority of them also have bills to pay.

3. You’ll send a message that you are a straightforward, transparent organization.

Listing the salary on job posts signals that you are open about how you do business. It sends that message to both job candidates and the existing staff.

4. You will attract more diverse candidates!

In my 26 years of conducting executive searches for nonprofits, more than half of the candidates I’ve helped to hire (in collaboration with the Board and executive staff) have been people of color – some of whom have also reflected other underrepresented communities.

Simply put: transparency builds trust.

It’s not hard to find comparable pay to make sure that what you are offering is in line with market value. Check with your local trade association, look at 990s of comparable organizations, and read the annual reports of similar nonprofits.

Ultimately, stating what you pay is the best path to landing the strongest possible candidate. That way you’ll know the person will be clear on what they are earning and be committed to doing excellent work.

If you’re a candidate who is interviewing for a job, please find the determination to ask what the salary range is during the preliminary interview. If you don’t get a clear answer, that will speak volumes about how that organization operates.

Happy searching!


Pat Libby is a nonprofit consultant and author of The Lobbying Strategy Handbook: 10 Steps to Advancing Any Cause Effectively from Oxford University Press. She has served as an academic, senior executive, board member, and consultant to innumerable nonprofit organizations and foundations for more than three decades.

Get in touch with questions or to get more information!


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