Rethink Your Association’s Compensation Systems

A thoughtful compensation system is key to attracting, engaging, and retaining top talent, but associations often wing it when it comes to compensation. Here are some tips for rethinking your own system.

Organizations that want to lure top talent to their associations—or even just keep the talent they currently have—would do well to take a second look at their compensation systems. But with competing priorities and projects on everyone’s plates, it can feel like there’s just no time to do so.

“Especially in associations where everyone is wearing many hats and there’s a huge focus on the mission, which there should be, but it can be very hard to step back from the day-to-day to have this more strategic discussion and planning process for compensation, but I think that it’s very worthwhile,” said Jenn Wendus, managing director at Keating Advisors, LLC.

To get started, Wendus, who led a session on this topic this week at ASAE’s Associations at Work Conference in Baltimore, offers a framework for creating a compensation system that does what it’s supposed to: attract, engage, and retain talent.

Think about your strategy and philosophy behind compensation. To do this, Wendus recommends taking a look at both the employer’s and employee’s value proposition. What does your organization want to say to its talent with its compensation system? While doing this, Wendus said it’s also helpful to think about financial rewards, such as base salary, annual increases, bonuses, retirement contributions, and the cost of your health benefits.

But she also said that compensation can take a nonfinancial form. From career development to promotions that come with title changes. “Affiliations with well-known associations can be very meaningful and attractive to some employees, and other nonfinancial benefits like work-life balance, having really great teammates, and having a good manager who supports your career development are other nonfinancial rewards,” she said.

Dig into data, and do your research. “You have to look at your competition and have an understanding of the labor market that you’re competing in for talent,” Wendus said. “And what you’re positioning against that market: Are you in line for that market? Are you above or below?”

To find where you currently are on the spectrum and where you might want to go, you have to look at benchmarking studies. She highlighted ASAE’s Association Compensation & Benefits Study as a good resource, but she also suggested looking beyond the association world for benchmarking data, since you might be competing for staff with the for-profit world as well.

Create a communication strategy. “Even if you have the best compensation system in the world, poor communication can undermine your good intentions,” Wendus said. In considering how you will communicate your compensation system to staff, you need to take time to think about transparency. “There’s a trend toward perhaps a bit more transparency and that doesn’t mean that everyone’s salary is up on the wall, but more transparency around what your pay is, how you can work to increase it, how well you’re performing, and what your career path looks like” are key.

She also added that “you need the conversation to be clear, timely, and coming from the right voices—from senior leadership and managers who need to be appropriately trained on how to have those conversations.”

It’s a lot of work, but ultimately it’s worthwhile since the heart of your organization—your people—is at stake

Has your association taken a look at its compensation systems? What changes have you made as a result? Please leave your comments below.

(Ivan-balvan/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Emily Bratcher

By Emily Bratcher

Emily Bratcher is a Contributing Editor for Associations Now. MORE

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