Before you accept a job you should be fully aware of your salary, benefits, and retirement plan among other things. If some of the terms of agreement are not as you hoped, you might be able to negotiate for what you prefer. Don't be nervous to ask your potential employers about the following:
Professional Development Programs
Professional development reimbursement is an incredibly valuable part of a compensation package because, if you are someone new to the sector, you have much to learn about the field. Be sure to ask about opportunities to attend conferences or national meetings.
Even the smallest nonprofits often see the value of networking and development. Expressing interest in these opportunities at the outset will make it clear that you are interested in growing with the organization.
Does the organization have the resources (equipment, office space, personnel, budgets, software, policies) that would make your work life easier? Is there a budget for other things that you need to do a good job? Some employers are willing to make adjustments or investments to accommodate your work needs. Consider if you need any other information about your work environment and the resources that will be at your disposal to evaluate the job offer properly.
While few nonprofit employers offer overtime pay for exempt staff, many do offer “comp time.” Comp time means that for every extra hour you work overtime you can take up to an hour off. This may be a formal system that requires you to keep careful records, or it may mean that you have the flexibility to come in late or leave early; there may also be a cap to comp time.
Perhaps the employer can’t be flexible about your salary, but they may be flexible about your work time.
- Could you reduce the number of hours on the job?
- Could you work alternate hours that would allow you to pursue other opportunities (whether paid or connected to other passions)?
You could also ask about job sharing, compressed workweeks (e.g., working ten hours a day for four days), and telecommuting.
This is one of the standard benefits that organizations usually offer full-time employees, but most internships and part-time jobs will not provide health care benefits. This is also one of the benefits that will probably not be open to negotiation because of laws requiring employers to provide consistent health benefits to all employees. However, you should still find out the specifics of the health care options that each position offers.
- Options: Some organizations offer several options of health care plans from which to choose (Preferred Provider Organization [PPO], Health Maintenance Organization [HMO], Point of Service [POS], etc.). There should be an HR person (or someone in Operations or Administration who acts as a Benefits Coordinator) in the organization who can explain the pros and cons of each option.
This is a particularly complex part of your compensation package and you should inquire about the plan’s details and costs.
- Structure: Medical services have gradually changed from traditional fee-for-service organizations into health maintenance organizations (HMOs). HMOs receive a fixed premium each month, and in exchange offer a range of services. HMOs provide many services under one plan, while fee-for-service providers operate less centrally and allow members to choose which medical practitioners they use. With these plans, there may be different pay scales for doctors outside a network.
- Mental health services/Employee assistance programs (EAPs): Some employers offer employee assistance programs, typically set up with an outside contracting agency, to provide confidential counseling in dealing with stress, substance abuse, relationship problems, and family issues and/or personal concerns.
- Other services: If you have specific, recurring medical needs (physical therapy, allergies, prescriptions, etc.) check to see that your treatments are covered by an employer’s plan. Do so as discreetly as possible (see the sidebar on page 166).
- Dental and vision insurance: With some health plans, dental and vision coverage is included, while in others it may be only partially covered or not covered at all. Consider whether preventive care and surgical care are covered and to what extent (deductibles, co-pay, and annual and lifetime maximums).
Life and Disability Insurance
Life insurance usually affords a certain amount of basic coverage for employees with the option of buying additional coverage for employees and their families.
Disability insurance provides a percentage of lost wages in case the employee is unable to work due to a non–work-related injury or illness. The period and cost of this kind of coverage varies from plan to plan, and is above any disability coverage required by the state.
Please note that Worker’s Compensation is another form of insurance that most employers are legally required to carry for injuries that happen while on the job.
If a position within an organization requires a move, sometimes an employer will help pay for your moving expenses. Employers can help defray the cost of a move in many different ways. Some employers will pay a percentage of your salary as their contribution to moving expenses; others will offer a flat contribution; still others reimburse an employee for the exact cost of the move. If relocation is necessary for the position, it is worth asking if compensation for relocation expenses is an option.
In certain circumstances, some relocation expenses that are not reimbursed by your new employer may be deducted when you file your income taxes. These expenses include the cost of transporting household goods and personal effects as well as travel and lodging costs. For more specific information, please see IRS Publication 521.
The workplace policies and culture can have a huge impact on work/life balance for all employees and their families. For example, an employer may offer staff opportunities to telework, create their own work schedules, and/or receive paid leave to care for sick family members or a newborn or newly adopted child.
Workplace cultural practices that benefit families include recognizing the family responsibilities of fathers not just mothers; and considering staff for promotions, raises, and bonuses even when they take advantage of family-friendly policies. For more on family-friendly workplaces check out:
Child and Elder Care Benefits
Child care and elder care are becoming more prevalent in benefits packages. If these issues affect your life, find out what the employer offers either in terms of payment or referrals.
Leave and Vacation Time
Sick, Personal, and Parental Leave
The Federal and Medical Leave Act requires that most organizations with 50 or more employees provide up to three months of unpaid leave for personal or family illness, and parental leave for the birth of a child. Some employers only offer what is required under the FMLA, while others provide some form of paid time off for similar reasons. Often an employer will require staff to use vacation and sick days first.
Some states, like California, offer six weeks of paid family leave to everyone.
This is one of the more flexible and variable benefits. However, there are often specific guidelines on vacation days. For example, vacation days may be limited during an employee’s first year (or first few months); they may not begin accumulating immediately; and there may be a cap on the number of days an employee can take consecutively or during peak periods when time off is discouraged.
Similarly, be sure to find out if and how the organization delineates between vacations, personal days, paid holidays, mental health days, and so on.
These programs help support an employee’s continuing education. Reimbursement can range from a single workshop or a college course to a full degree program. Larger organizations are more likely to offer a formal plan, although smaller organizations are often willing to negotiate time away from work for educational purposes, even if they can’t help with the cost.
Also keep in mind that many education-focused nonprofits (like private universities) offer scholarships to partners, spouses, and children of employees.
For workers who plan to retire (eventually), some employers offer opportunities to gradually reduce responsibilities and working hours as a way to help ramp-up the knowledge and skills of the next generation of organizational leaders.
Retirement Investment Plans
The most common retirement plans are Sections 403(b) and 401(k).
These plans allow employees to deduct a portion of their pre-tax salary and put it into a fund for their retirement, which can help employees fall into a lower tax bracket. The money is invested while in the account and cannot be taken out of the fund (without incurring penalties) until an employee reaches retirement age.
An employer may contribute or match a percentage of the employee’s contribution; whether or not your employer does is an important question to ask. Most nonprofits offer 403(b) retirement plans that mainly differ from a 401(k) plan in how they are administered. For all practical purposes, the benefits of these two types of retirement plans are comparable. Some nonprofits offer defined benefit plans (a pension plan with guaranteed payouts).