Tips: Negotiating Pay

For many survivors, survivor leadership positions in the movement may be among the first jobs we’ve had in “professional” settings, so it can feel intimidating to negotiate pay. This post will provide some information to help professionals with lived experience negotiate pay. 


Depending on the kind of work you are doing, you may be a “contractor” or an “employee.” Employees work for the business or organization, whereas contractors are considered to be independent business owners running their own business. Employees work for the organization, whereas the organization is the customer of a contractor. Typically, contractors may make more per hour for work done, while employees often have more job security and benefits. There are tradeoffs to each position. For employees, the organization will take out taxes from each paycheck to reduce the chances of the employee owing money at the end of the year. For contractors, they are responsible for their own tax payments as self-employed business owners, and will want to plan ahead in order to avoid a hefty tax bill in April. For more information on the differences between independent contractors and employees, see this webpage from the Department of Labor. It is illegal for companies to classify people doing employee-level work for them as “contractors” as a loophole. Contact the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hours Division for more information, or if you believe you might be misclassified. 


Some nonprofits and organizations have “pay ranges,” “employment bands,” or “wage grades” for hiring employees. This means that they have preset ranges of pay for different kinds of jobs. Feel free to ask, “What is the hiring range for this position?” Pay attention to whether they are telling you the pay range (the range that anyone in this position can make no matter how long they’ve been there) or the hiring range (the range they hire new employees at). If it is the “pay range,” you can expect to come in lower on that range as a new hire, as the range includes people who’ve been in that position for years. If it is the “hiring range,” you have flexibility to negotiate within (or even slightly above!) that range, based on how well you think you would do at the job. For government jobs, you can usually find the pay scales as well as salaries of other government employees online.  

Some medium to larger sized nonprofits will also have standardized pay scales – a range for “specialists,” a different range for “coordinators,” and another for “managers,” for example. Some smaller organizations, however, have a lot more flexibility around how much they pay. Even if they do not disclose their hiring range, they have probably budgeted a set amount or range for the position. If they ask for your “salary requirements” and you give a number well over what they have budgeted, they will tell you. No worries. Let them know you know your worth, even if you have to pump yourself up to say it confidently! 


In the anti-human trafficking movement, much of the money that is used to pay for employees and contractors comes from government grants. Many government grants have requirements for use of funding to hire contractors. For example, some of them may limit hourly or daily pay to “the federal rate,” which is currently $81.25 per hour, not to exceed $650 per day. They may also have requirements that any significant contract work has at least three bids from different contractors to make sure that the organization is being financially responsible.  

Some organizations have a blanket policy of paying all contractors the federal rate. Some are not able to. Some are only able to pay at that rate if they can justify to their funder why that particular contractor was worth the full rate – whether it’s because they have specialized skills, unique training, or are doing intense work. 

Also remember that the size of the contract may influence what the hourly contract rate is. If the organization contracts with you to do a single 5-20 hour project, you might get the full federal rate. If you are doing a contract that will be 20+ hours per week for a period of months, you might be offered between $35-65 per hour. Remember, it is easier to negotiate a higher hourly contract fee for smaller projects than larger, ongoing ones. 


When considering where in the hiring range or contractor pay range you realistically fall, experience, background, and the kind of work you’ll be doing will impact the pay. 

Do you have relevant experience in the field? If you’re new to this kind of work, or have only been doing it for a year or so, you might be on the lower end of the range. If you’ve been doing it for 2-5 years, you’ll likely be closer to the middle. And if you’ve been doing this kind of work for more than 5 years, there’s a good chance you’re on the higher end of the pay range. 

What is your background in terms of education, skills, and training? People who have specialized training in certain fields, like social work, medical assistant, or paralegal might be able to negotiate for a higher rate than they would otherwise, because there will be things that they already know that the organization will not have to spend time training them about. That said, formal education is not the only way to learn and build skills! Think about other work you may have done. Did you work in foodservice? If so, I’d bet you’re a master of fast-paced decision making under pressure as well as multitasking. Highlight those skills in your negotiation. Did you plan and implement your church’s fall bake sale? Think through some of the project management skills you developed in that process and highlight those skills in your negotiation. Did you organize a harm reduction outreach in your community? You are probably a pro at compassionately prioritizing needs and implementing crisis intervention strategies. 

Survivor is not a skill set, and you aren’t automatically qualified for every job in the movement just because you’re a survivor of trafficking. BUT, don’t sell yourself short! Think about what experiences and skills you do have, find work that uses the strongest of your skills, and negotiate for those skills to be recognized. 

Finally, what kind of work will you be doing for the organization? We know that jobs with more responsibility, or with more specialized skill sets, will likely pay more. Know what the average rates are for people doing that kind of work in your community. 


Does the organization provide a laptop, or will you be expected to provide your own? If you are traveling, does the organization pay for your travel and food, or do you? If you are a contractor, consider what your costs will be for things like travel, food, equipment and software, office supplies, childcare, and professional clothing. Factor these into your rate. As an employee, remember that your “benefits package” (if benefits are provided) is considered part of your compensation. Ask questions about the benefits to get a good idea of what that means for you. 


Typically, once an agency decides you’re their top choice, you’ll get what is called a “soft offer.” This is usually a phone call in which they tell you they’d like you to work for them. If you get a soft offer, CONGRATULATIONS! They clearly like you and want you! Woo-hoo! BUT, don’t quit your other job or apply for a bigger apartment just yet! A soft offer means they’re ready to start the process of negotiation with you to make sure that the terms of the work feel good to both of you. Sometimes the soft offer will come with a salary or pay offer. If you feel unprepared to commit to the pay when you get the soft offer, it’s okay to ask for more time. Let them know you’d like to get back to them “after I talk it through with my colleagues,” “after I chat with my partner,” or “after I review my work-related expenses.” Tell them what date they can expect to hear from you by. After you have negotiated pay, you will usually receive a written offer, or “hard offer,” that will include all the details of your hiring. Read through it to make sure it accurately captures what you had discussed. If not, don’t be afraid to ask questions. 

For contractors, the contract is similar to the written offer. Read through it to double check for things like: 

  • What is the work I’m expected to do? 
  • If I create content (writing, story, art, video), who retains rights to the content? 
  • How much is compensation, and how often is it paid? 
  • How often do I invoice for work done? 
  • Once I invoice for work done, how long does it usually take to receive payment? 
  • What is the maximum dollar amount or number of hours I will be paid for this project? 
  • What kinds of documentation will I need to provide? 

If it does not align with your expectations, you can ask the contract administrator to make revisions to align with your prior discussion. As you get more comfortable with contracts, you may feel confident editing the contract yourself and sending back a revised contract for the organization’s review. Both of these are reasonably common practices in nonprofit contract negotiations. 


Sometimes the soft offer will come with the question, “what are your salary requirements?” Consider all the information above and do a bit of “market research” using a website like or to see where you fit into the norms in your field and community. Remember, you will typically not negotiate your salary until after you’ve received a soft offer. Once you’re ready, here are a few tips. 

  • Figure out how much you’d need to make to feel, “OH GOOD, I can breathe!” Add 10-20% to that number. Lead with more than what you think you’ll get. This can be super hard for survivors, especially when we’ve been told we are worthless, or especially if we’ve been conditioned by racism, misogyny, and other forms of oppression to be “polite” and not to ask for “too much.” This is not the time to be small. TAKE UP SPACE.  

“When I applied for my first full-time professional job, they wouldn’t give me a hiring range, and I was panicked. My friend and colleague Anita told me, “if they don’t give you a hiring range, YOU MAKE THEM REGRET IT!” It was hard for me to even get the words out of my mouth when I told my soon-to-be-supervisor what my “salary expectations” were. She paused for a moment, laughed cheerfully, and then said, “GOOD FOR YOU.” I didn’t get hired at the salary I’d asked for, but I ended up making significantly more than I’d expected, at the very high end of what I later learned was the hiring range.”

  • Once they come back with a lower number (they almost always will), you could consider going for a higher number, in between their offer and yours. That might also be a good time to make tradeoffs about other things that have value to you. “That’s a bit lower than I was hoping. I could consider a salary closer to that if I didn’t have the extra commute time and gas money. Could I work remotely two-three days each week?” “That’s a bit lower than I was hoping. I could consider a salary closer to that if you covered 100% of my health insurance instead of the usual percentage.” Sometimes, their policies might be firm on restricting the hiring range, but less firm on restricting some of the terms of your employment. Consider negotiating benefits, remote work, and an increased budget for professional development and conferences as part of your compensation package, or even for a different title. 
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions! “So if salary isn’t negotiable, are there other benefits that are?” “What would help me get to the higher end of the hiring range?” “What kinds of things would I need to do as a new employee to move up the pay range?” 


No matter what, remember that your worth as a human is not determined by the payment offer or even your pay. Sometimes we take jobs that pay less than we hoped because the experience will be invaluable for future job search processes, or simply because we are on the receiving end of discrimination and an unjust economic system. Sometimes an organization wants to pay us more, but can’t because of funding restrictions. Sometimes an organization might not see the value in what we bring as an employee until after we’ve been there and they’ve seen us in action. And sometimes, we do the work we have to do while continuing to look for different or better work, where we’ll feel valued and appreciated. No matter what, your worth as a human is not determined by your pay or your productivity. You deserve safety, ease, and support, just the way you are. 


These basics for hiring managers will help make your agency more equitable and accessible for experts with lived experience.

– Post the salary or salary range in the job description.
– Indicate that people with lived experience are encouraged to apply, even if they do not meet all of the “requirements.”
– Consider starting salary ranges that are set according to metrics, rather than a candidate’s skill at negotiation.
– Share this post with potential new hires as part of all your soft offers.
– Provide all staff with external professional development on how to negotiate contracts, pay, and raises.
– Review best practices and attend training on equitable hiring practices.