"I have another offer."​ Is there a better way to your next raise?

Feb 11, 2020

Do you know the rules of the “I have another offer” game?

It goes like this…

You: I want and deserve a raise, but the only way to get it is to get another offer, take it to my boss and see what they’ll do to keep me.

 Ideally, your boss says: We don’t want to lose you. Of course! We’ll match that offer!

 But your boss is thinking: Couldn’t we have talked about this before the offer? Does she really want to stay or is this just about the money? When is she going to play this game again?

 I never played the “I have another offer” game.

And it cost me financially.

Those who interviewed elsewhere got bigger raises than I did.

But if you truly don’t want the offer and want to stay, there’s a big risk, right? A risk that your current employer says, “Congratulations, good luck!” AKA: Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!

Even when the gambit works, managers often feel played – and suspect afterwards that you will likely, at some point, leave over money.

So then what to do? Simply waiting to be tapped for the next role is less than satisfying – especially when headhunters call daily with tantalizing opportunities elsewhere.

Today’s video offers a terrific and instructive example of a fundraiser who advanced his career in a way that built trust and respect from his boss. This way, everyone wins.


The Fundraiser:

Zack Smith, then a standout fundraiser for UC San Diego’s Rady School of Management, received a very tempting offer from a dean he knew at another UC school. He turned it down. “I made a commitment to the dean at the Rady School,” he said. And yet, the offer got him thinking.

After he’d said no, without any “leverage,” Zack asked for a conversation about career opportunities at UC San Diego.

The Boss:

Zack’s boss, Rebecca Smith, welcomed the conversation and especially appreciated that it was not an ultimatum. For her, keeping great people is the way to build strong relationships with donors and to create a vibrant culture where people want to come to work every day. This was an opportunity to take organizational values “off the walls and into the halls.” And her boss agreed.

The Boss’s Boss:

Zack had participated on the interview panel when Drew Hunsinger was hired to lead UCSD’s development team. Hunsinger talked then about being a trust-based leader, keeping open lines of communication, and placing a high value on transparency. And Zack had already seen that in action.

The Results:

Very soon after Zack’s conversation with Rebecca, he was delighted to be sitting down with Drew. Together, they began to map out a new challenge, one that would allow Zack to demonstrate innovation, collaboration, and leadership. Drew immediately took that to the dean, who fully embraced it.

This was real co-creation – exactly what we seek to foster with donors. Zack didn’t come with a fully formed idea; he came to explore and he was open to possibilities.

In the end, Zack had a new challenge and opportunity to prove himself, and his relationship with Rebecca and Drew was only stronger. More trust, not less. (In fact, not terribly long after, he was promoted to lead the Irwin and Joan Jacobs School of Engineering team, another amazing opportunity within UCSD.) Zack earned respect from leadership, and he knew it.

Rebecca retained one of her top performers, and her appreciation for his integrity and transparency only grew. From her perspective, donors and the dean were well served, and UCSD had a chance to visibly live up to its values.

So, what should you do?

If you’re a manager:

  • Signal you’re willing to talk! At least annually, open a conversation with your top performers about career path.
    • How (specifically) might they grow valuable skills for their next step?
    • What initiatives might they take on to prove merit and leadership?
    • How, in the context of your org’s traditions, can they (or you!) make their contributions visible?
  • Let them know you’re their advocate! (You think they know, but they always appreciate hearing it – and even, for top marks, to understand what, exactly, you’re doing in that vein.)
  • Be willing to have the conversation with your boss – and with HR – to ensure that there are options for all different kinds of top performers.
    • Does your shop need a “track” in which to promote great fundraisers who don’t want to manage?
    • Could new roles facilitate collaborative fundraising efforts, working with several deans and teams?

If you’re a rockstar fundraiser and you want to stay:

  • Keep in mind Rebecca’s hallmark traits of amazing development staff, and think how you can showcase yours:
    • Works hard and smart – plenty of results show it
    • Communicates beautifully (up, down, and across)
    • Terrific team player (gives credit, supports colleagues, pitches in)

Ask your boss before the ultimatum to help you dream your next role – and be clear that you’re willing to do the work to get there!

When you do, focus on what you can bring more than what you need/want. For example, “I love it here and I really want to grow to earn the next step. I have some ideas, but I’d really love to hear what you might think about for me and what I can do to get there.” (Rather than, “I really need to earn more because I’ve got college bills coming up. How do you see my career path?”)

 If you’re not a rockstar fundraiser yet:

  • Invest in building your skills and bringing results before you ask for the career conversation. People who exceed expectations get promoted – remember that metrics are minimums, you want to consistently overperform!
  • Chat with your boss or peers about how to step up your game – and be specific.
  • Practice with a peer or your boss how to turn a donor conversation to money without feeling creepy!
  • If you’re getting “stuck” in cultivation and don’t see how to get to the ask, seek tips on how to keep conversations purposeful.
  • If your visit volume is too low, find someone who plans huge trips or schedules heavy in-town visits and learn how they do it!

My story:

Years ago, six months into a new job, my boss took me to coffee to ask how things were going. 

I followed up with a two-page memo that outlined my "big dream" for what I could - and would like to - do. 

A few days later, he responded with "Hmmmm. A lot to think about." And that was that. 

After whining internally for a few days, I realized, "Oh! Duh. Why would he entertain this big dream when he has no evidence I can or will do it?" So, I made like Nike and got down to just doing it. And many millions of dollars later, a position was created for me that looked an awful lot like that big dream.

Just a happy reminder that career paths depend equally on both parties - the fundraiser and the boss. Open lines of communication are important, trust is fundamental. And your conversation will go much further when you're very obviously killing it!