Study Finds Wide Disparities in Salaries of 'Key' Nonprofit Staff

Study Finds Wide Disparities in Salaries of 'Key' Nonprofit Staff

Average annual compensation for top employees of nonprofits varies widely by issue area and organization type, an analysis by the Chronicle of Philanthropy finds. 

Based on data from the tax filings of 860 nonprofits that raise at least $35 million annually from private funders, the study found that the more than 10,000 "key" employees and officials who made at least $150,000 were paid an average of $492,180. The highest paid were key employees at hospitals and medical centers — many of them doctors who have private practices as part of their employment arrangements — averaging $750,550 a year, with nearly 20 percent of them earning more than $1 million. Nonprofit experts told the Chronicle that high salaries weren't unusual at nonprofit hospitals and medical centers because they have to compete with for-profit institutions for talent and expertise.

The next highest paid were key employees at private colleges and universities — including medical doctors and men's football and basketball coaches — who earned an average of $696,730, 41 percent above the overall average and 84 percent more than their peers at public institutions, who were paid an average of $377,970. Average annual pay among the rest of the issue areas examined were clustered more closely: key staff at health nonprofits earned an average of $354,666, followed by those working in arts and culture organizations ($351,495), public broadcasting ($339,682), and museums and libraries ($328,827). The lowest paid key employees were those at religious nonprofits ($232,671), community foundations ($234,358), United Ways ($235,962), donor-advised funds ($236,280), and social service nonprofits ($250,139). 

The analysis found a similar trend for CEO compensation, with a slight reordering at the top. Private colleges and universities paid an average of $1.8 million to individuals with "CEO" in their title and $991,570 to "presidents," while hospital and medical center CEOs were paid an average of $1.7 million, followed by CEOs in arts and culture ($872,955), public broadcasting ($710,487), and health ($625,815) organizations. 

The Chronicle notes that nonprofit pay levels increasingly have been a topic of conversation among policy makers. The tax law enacted at the end of 2017 includes a provision that levies a 21 percent tax on nonprofits that pay workers more than $1 million — including two hundred and twenty-six organizations in the Chronicle's database identified in an earlier report.

Brian O’Leary, Michael Theis, Tyler Davis. "New Chronicle Salary Database Underscores Big Disparities Among Nonprofits." Chronicle of Philanthropy 06/05/2019.