In Part 1 of this series, we talked about using power to serve others – not yourself. In Part 2 we covered position and authority – and how it matters in the use of your labor. Now, let’s talk about money and salary.

All of energy and details of getting into a higher position has a cousin called money. Jeff and I often get asked the “what salary should they pay me” question. And it immediately puts me into a conversation about the role of money in the work of mid, major, and planned gifts.

In Part 1 of this series, I told you that I got caught stealing money when I was in 7th grade. Now I want to tell you why I did it and how it influenced my relationship to money.

My parents did not have much money. I didn’t notice it until they sent me to a boarding school for first grade. The school had a mixture of kids from very wealthy families as well as kids like me at the bottom of the economic ladder. It didn’t take long for me to notice the difference.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the act of sending me off to a boarding school in another country started me down an emotional and psychological track of self-doubt and loathing. I felt horrible about myself and I was anxious all the time. And I desperately was seeking to discover my value in the kids around me.

While my story is way more complicated than I have time to develop here, the bottom line was that the confluence of low self-image and rich kids flaunting their money and things caused me a great deal of inner turmoil. And so, I decided to buy my way into love and acceptance. I started stealing money from the student council store. I did two things with the money: I used it for myself, and I gave large sums of it away to a group of friends I was “buying.”

This continued for some time until I got caught and got kicked out of school. This event started me on an interesting and dramatic journey with money that taught me several lessons:

  1. Money has nothing to do with one’s personal value.

    While I know this intellectually, to this day I still struggle with it emotionally. So, I have an ongoing conversation with myself about this to remind myself that no matter how much or how little I have, I will be no less or no more valuable as a person. And I will not be happier either.

  2. Money will not help you find or maintain a relationship – any kind of relationship, business or personal.

    When you have money, like I did at that school and like I have had in my career, you can have quite a few people who are happy to be your “friend.” But when the money dries up, you will see most of them quickly disappear.

  3. Money in the workplace is first about providing service then about making a living.

    This one is counterintuitive. We all need to make a living, so work is an important and necessary activity. But I have found that many employers and employees are confused about this dynamic. Over the years as an employer, I have found that, with an employee, there is a direct correlation between the employee’s obsession with money and a lack of quality service to the organization. Conversely, those employees who are primarily focused on doing a good job and securing the agreed upon results in an effective and efficient way are the ones who consistently deliver quality services to the organization.

  4. The acquisition of money needs to be a result, not an objective.

    I learned this lesson two ways during my career. The first way was in changing jobs. Never in my career have I sought a different job to get a higher salary. So, in all my job changes over the years, every time I changed jobs, I always dropped in salary. Why? Because I wanted to go for the opportunity, and I believed I could make a difference.

Now, I’m not sharing this either to puff myself up or show what a wonderful person I am. I’m simply saying that when you approach a job with a motive to secure an opportunity and provide service, versus chasing after an increase in your salary, something very magical happens in your heart and your employer’s head. And financial rewards come to you in unexpected and generous ways.

Why? Because a good and smart employer will see that they have an employee who is making things happen, who is focused on getting things done, and who puts the organization and team ahead of personal interest. This is very powerful. And in my case, the compensation trend line was up over the years to greater and greater financial rewards with some small little “pauses” in salary increases when I changed jobs.

I know, you may have been burned on the compensation thing, and now you are cynical and careful. You may feel something along the lines of: “If I don’t take care of me, no one will!”

I know. But this “me first” attitude, if not controlled and managed, has a way of putting negative energy in the relationship between you and your employer. Believe me, I know this from being an employer myself and having been an avid student of this topic over the last 45 years.

The second way I learned this lesson is in my work with clients over the years. While it’s often said that profits come from providing a great product and service, very few people put this principle into action. Instead, they are obsessed with grabbing the money. The result? They set a tone in their organization that is self-interested rather than others-oriented. This is a dreadful mistake and one that leads to failure.

When you lead an organization that is providing services to customers and you honestly believe you can take short cuts, put yourself before them, manipulate and lie to get what you want, you will fail. It is just that simple, and it’s just a matter of time before reality will catch up with you.

Conversely, if you serve your employees and your customers exceptionally, with a heart and mind toward their interests, the financial rewards will follow. I have experienced this principle in the organizations I have owned and led in my career. And it works. It really does.

So, what does all this mean to you in your current mid, major, or planned gifts job and/or your search for a new job? How should you think about money and compensation in your work?

Here’s what I think:

  1. Adopt a philosophy of service, instead of focusing on the money. Focus your heart and mind on giving versus getting.

    This means asking yourself why you are so obsessed with money, if you are. You only need so much. Why do you obsess about getting more? I am not saying here you shouldn’t want more or plan to get more. I am asking why this desire is so central to your being? I have nothing against making money. It’s fine with me if you go for the $150,000 salary or you have discovered a way to make millions. My question is about your heart and your motives. If the core driver is just about the money, you will not have a good journey. If, instead, it is about good service to others, you will be successful.

  2. Don’t let your desire for more money force you into a job situation that won’t work.

    If you absolutely need (not want) to make $40,000 but the job pays $35,000, don’t maneuver yourself into a situation where you persuade the prospective employer to give you $40k. It will set the wrong tone and the wrong expectations. It will put pressure on you that you should not have. If what you need is $50,000 and the range of the job is $50 to $60k, why not start at the $50k and “win” the rest of it through good service? Why do you HAVE to have more to start? The point here is simply this: do not make money the driving and central force in taking a job. Do not let yourself get beyond your need into wants. Let your service be the thing that brings you the money, not your manipulations.

  3. Be aware of and own the fact that your employer needs an economic payback from the money they’re investing in you.

    We hardly ever think of this point – that the employer needs to get something from the deal as well. They not only need to see results – it somehow needs to be economically worth it for the salary they’re paying you. In major gifts, if you are just starting out, the payback may be as low as 1:2 or 3, meaning the organization gets back $2 or $3 for every dollar they spend. As the program matures, that ratio needs to improve substantially. If YOU own this and deliver it, you’re going to get great performance reviews. And when you perform at that level, financial rewards for you are just around the corner.

  4. Be willing to take a step backwards financially to secure a better place for yourself.

    Assuming you are taking care of your financial needs (not wants), when you are thinking about changing jobs or doing the same thing in another organization, think of the opportunity first, not the salary. And if the opportunity is something that really matches your motivations and abilities, but the starting pay is below what you make now but above what you need, then strongly consider it. In an organization that values high performers, the money will take care of itself.

What this entire series on power, position, and money nets down to is this. It’s better to have a focus on giving of yourself rather than trying to get ahead for your personal gain.

If you can shift your thinking into how you can serve others through your career choices, it will bring you real happiness.


This is Part 3 of a three-part blog series: The role of Power, Position, and Money

Read Part 1: The Role of Power, Position, and Money in Frontline Fundraising
Read Part 2: Are You Climbing the Ladder for the Wrong Reasons? The Role of Power, Position, and Money