Association work can be rewarding in a number of ways—professionally, socially, intellectually, and even monetarily. That last one is a bit rarer, especially if you’re in a small to mid-sized association and if you’re not in the latter stages of your career. But it can happen, and you can do something to speed it along.
It’s important to remember that your boss most likely wants to pay you better, but they face constraints in doing so. Most import among them are two factors: merit and money. You either deserve a raise or you don’t. If you do, there’s either money for it or there isn’t. But you’re not entirely helpless in influencing your employer’s compensation decisions. In fact, many of the variables that people think are beyond their control actually aren’t. If you’re trying to get a raise—or more accurately, you’re not succeeding in getting one—then you have to change the way your employer views you through the lenses of merit and money.
First, let’s look at merit. Our work revolves around our members, so it reasonably follows that most of us have a strong customer service ethos. With that comes the tendency to defer praise and share credit. These traits are great for team building, but you aren’t paid as a team. Blending into the crowd just makes it more difficult for management to see how much great work you’re doing.
In a very broad sense, you have to ask yourself if what you’re doing is worth more money. Does it move the association forward in its mission? Is it distinguishable from your peers’ work? If so, you have to own it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not telling you to brag—just be proud of your good work and remind management of it.
Let’s say there’s a subset of membership that your association has trouble retaining, but you figured out a way to reverse that trend. When it works, you need to resist the urge to say “it was a team effort.” Your boss will be grateful that the retention numbers are up, but you’ll get much farther if you solidify in their mind your contributions. Try something along the lines of “I saw this trend we’ve been struggling with and after giving it a lot of thought, I came up with this idea. Jane and I tested it and found positive results. If the whole team gives it a shot, I think overall retention will increase.” When you put it this way, you include your team in your successes; but you leave no doubt that the idea originated with you and you’re the one that implemented it.
Once you’ve established this, your next step is helping find the resources for your raise. Ideally, your work will directly increase revenues. If that’s the case, it’s easy to demonstrate that your total compensation should reflect a reasonable portion of the revenues you created. If that isn’t clear though, you’re not out of options. Many association staffers think that they don’t have any influence on the budget. This is simply not true. You influence the budget every day. Your decisions increase or decrease the cost of doing business. They’re not all substantial impacts, but they add up.
As association professionals, we find cheaper ways to do things, then we do them better than they were done before. The trick is tracking those little savings and then illustrating their connection to your work. Your boss notices when operating costs go down and they’re especially interested when it happens over successive months. It’s easy for them to chalk it up to collective improvements, but not if you’re gently reminding them who’s responsible. If you consistently find savings in your department, include that in your pitch at review time.
If you’re the irreplaceable part of your association’s increasingly cost-efficient machine, you can nickel and dime your way to a raise. You won’t overshadow your team by doing so, but it will differentiate you as its most valuable component. You advocate for your members every day; but if you advocate for yourself too, tangible rewards will soon follow.