The Art of the Ask

Recap of the ELNYA/YPA Negotiation Workshop

Pauline Willis and Mara Manus during the ELNYA/YPA Workshop on Negotiation

Pauline Willis and Mara Manus during the ELNYA/YPA Workshop on Negotiation

On Tuesday, June 27, a room at LMHQ slowly filled with women working in the arts and started buzzing with the usual sounds of first introductions and the greetings of familiar faces. We all gathered to hear from two remarkable women leaders: Mara Manus, Executive Director of the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA), and Pauline Willis, Director of the American Federation of Arts (AFA).

The honest and constructive discussion on the topic of negotiation skills will be invaluable in professional and personal situations to come. And while it is impossible to relay the atmosphere and every detail of the evening, we’re sharing the below highlights for the women and members who couldn’t make it:

If you’re in a job and are asking for a raise or promotion: 

1. Show Numbers

To the extent possible, always present numbers and show the financial impact you are making. Indicate by percentages the workload that you’re responsible for and what you have achieved. Remember also that institutional knowledge is important, don’t undersell your value. 

2. Senior Support

Have someone else make your case on your behalf. Not only does it strengthen your own ask, having someone in a senior position advocate for you amplifies your voice too and makes your case stronger. 

3. Never Forget Context

What was the budget when you started? What is it now? Always look at the context the company or organization finds itself in. Look at budget issues and address them during your negotiation. Acknowledging the financial situation your organization is in, makes your superior understand you are aware of the broader implications and are invested in your work.

4. Leave Fairness Alone

Don't negotiate on the basis of fairness, i.e. “this person in a similar position is earning more than me”. It's a weak tactic. Highlight your own strengths and accomplishments, and don’t compare yourself to others. Shake off entitlement too while you are at it. Both panelists agreed, if you feel entitled to the raise and let that show, you are not getting it. 

5. One-Time Magic

Our panelists’ eyes lit up when a one-time bonus was mentioned by an audience member. It is the one thing that directors or executives like to hear, because it does not affect future spending of the organization or employee benefits. And for you, it’s a great tactic to have your worth appreciated and compensated.

6. The Future

Sometimes it is worth exploring what your future impact at the organization will be. Have you considered how your work will transform a certain program? How you will bring in additional donors? What your marketing efforts will do to audience numbers? Mentioning what you are looking forward to achieving (and being realistic!) can be effective.

If you’re job hunting and need to negotiate a new salary or position: 

7. Previous salary

Never tell them what you were making in a previous position. Yes, we have made that mistake personally several times. Will we make it again? Definitely not. Especially after hearing Pauline and Mara strongly oppose and be appalled at any hiring managers even asking that question. If you’re asked, politely decline to answer because that information is confidential. 

8. Do not accept the offer immediately

Most employers are likely trying to get you for the least amount of money. It’s just the nature of balancing their budget. That is one of the reasons why you should not accept the first offer immediately. Always articulate your appreciation for and excitement about the offer, however be sure to request a day or two to think it over and discuss it with your partner, parents, life coach, cat, etc.

9. Current salary

That is when research comes in. Do your research! Know what other employees are making, what the industry standards are for your future position, how is the financial health of the organization. You should know the answers to all of those questions to be able to back up your ask. Guidestar and Glassdoor are just a few of the sites that can help when it comes to job research.

10. The Ask

Never forget to say you are so excited for the opportunity, however - explain the reasons you are asking for a higher salary. Be direct with your ask, back it up with your research, and then stay silent. Don’t fill the silence. What they come back with is likely the actual amount they can afford to pay you. 

11. Re-negotiation

If you’re unable to get the salary that you wished for going into the position, ask for a salary renegotiation in 6 months. Don’t forget to put it in writing.

12. Other benefits

The arts sector is sometimes unable to offer better monetary compensation (ask us about it, we’ve had a whole panel on this subject). That should not deter you from asking for other benefits such as an additional week of vacation, your health insurance to kick in right away (if there’s a delay), your probation period to be shorter etc.

Lastly, we don’t want you to leave before internalizing the most important piece of advice from our panelists: 

“Don't not ask because you are worried about failing!"

- Mara Manus, Executive Director of New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA)