That Nonprofit CEO Makes What?

When a natural disaster strikes, as they have over the last few days and weeks, those of us wanting to help often search for where to donate. This is often when nonprofit agencies get the most recognition and scrutiny.  Money is tight for a lot of us, so if we choose to give of our funds we want to be certain that money is getting to cause or people we’re seeking to help.  Real talk, that’s not always the case whether it’s a nationally recognized organization such as the Red Cross, think Haiti, 6 billion donated and only 6 houses (NPR’s take | Red Cross’ take).  When stories such as these come out, the conversation on how much the CEOs of these agencies earns becomes an offshoot.  It’s also not just disaster that bring about the pay discussion. Based on my Facebook feed, the issue of nonprofit upper management salaries comes up about every 6 months. Usually, it’s based on a meme of salaries of some of the biggest nonprofits in the country (Snopes take on the meme).

Sure enough, several days ago, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and someone I followed posted about the fact that Goodwill had hired a new regional CEO in her area. She went on to state the person taking the job was leaving a company where he made $500. Naturally, the consensus was that he would be making that or more when he joins Goodwill.  She questioned why/how/if a nonprofit should pay such large salary and if that money should be going to a greater cause such as hurricane relief.

Full disclosure, I have worked for a small local nonprofit for 6 years.

Now, that being said, I worked in corporate america before choosing to leave for my current job. In my case, that meant a decrease in salary. I took the job because I wanted to help others and felt this particular job would allow me the flexibility I needed as a mom of an 8 month old. However, my professional goals and aspirations didn’t change because I chose to work for a nonprofit.

When these questions about nonprofit CEO salaries come up, I often want to know what do those questioning think a decent salary would be for these national and sometimes global agencies? Let’s consider a local Goodwill branch in my area: Goodwill Upstate/Midlands. They have about 40 stores spanning several counties. Take into account workers you see on the sales floor, managers, those in stock, those who drive trucks to pick up donated items, staff accountants, human resources, etc.  That’s just the stores, Goodwill also offers educations services. So, consider the staff for that.  Nonprofits are businesses they need to be competitive to attract the best people to reduce turnover, attract donors/partners and keep the doors open.

Now, if you are the person in charge of running ALL of that, how much would you want to make?


Consider you’re at the top of the totem poll so whatever you cap yourself at, you are also capping everyone else under you. So, if the CEO should only make $50k, then what is the store manager, accountant, human resource worker or sales clerk making?

Creating an agency to help people doesn’t mean you don’t want to make a living or that you don’t want what you’ve created to grow and expand. My husband knows someone who gives to a certain nonprofit because the CEO only makes $13,000 a year and not what she considers exorbitant amounts of bigger agencies. Ummm ok! A few things. This nonprofit must be extremely small which is just fine, but it should add to perspective. This person is a one man band and is running this alone. This person must have another job as a supplement, has a trust fund he’s just dipping into or is constantly making a choice between food and housing.  If she just wants to give to smaller agencies that’s great, but to give because of what the CEO makes doesn’t sit well with me. How about instead of focusing on CEO pay, you focus on how much of every dollar you give actually goes to the cause? How about researching success stories or stories showing how lives or situations have changed due to the agency? The CEO making less money doesn’t equal a well run organization that’s making the most of your donations.

Making decisions for workers and making sure they are successful and an agency is successful takes a lot of work. It can be just as much work if not more than the corporate realm because you also have to search for donors for your cause. As a nonprofit you don’t pass a lot of your costs to your customers as other businesses do.  Now, should nonprofits have to do what they say they are going to do and account for the money that is donated to them? ABSO-FREAKIN-LUTELY! Hell yes! Hold their feet to the fire, those are YOUR coins!

Bottomline is nonprofit workers are skilled, highly trained and educated. We just chose to take our talents to the nonprofit world. The same opportunities for growth, pay increase, etc. are expected. Not all nonprofits are equal and when it comes to salaries size, funding and how the agency is run both come into play. However, if a nonprofit is able to pay big bucks, still stay on its mission and account for money given, then I say “show me the money”.  Nonprofit doesn’t mean “we don’t see money”. It means, we want to help and still get our coins while we do it. Both can be done and that’s ok.

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