Do Nonprofit Employees Get Paid Enough? A Guide to Nonprofit Salaries

Bryna Dilman • Nov 25, 2022
Three nonprofit co-workers speaking to each other about their nonprofit salaries

Nonprofit organizations play a crucial role in addressing social, economic, and environmental issues in all over the world. However, from your executive director to your fundraising manager to your volunteer coordinator, a common concern among nonprofit employees is the relatively low salaries compared to their counterparts in the for-profit sector, especially considering the average living wage.

The nonprofit sector is said to the third largest employer in the United States, which comes at no surprise that the issue of fair compensation practices is important for attracting and retaining talented individuals. In this blog post, we’ll explore the factors that impact salaries in the nonprofit sector and provide a fulsome nonprofit salaries guide to support your organization.

Get the 2023 Comprehensive Guide to Nonprofit Salaries

This guide is complete with market rates, job description templates, and growth tools for American and Canadian Nonprofits.

How Do Nonprofits Compensate Employees: Fixed or Variable Compensation?

Most nonprofits have different approaches when it comes to compensating their employees. Some organizations use fixed salaries, which means that employees receive a set amount of money each pay period regardless of performance or other factors. Others use variable compensation, which means that an employee’s pay is based on factors such as their individual performance, the organization’s financial performance, and the achievement of specific goals or targets.

Benefits of Fixed Compensation for Nonprofit Employees:

  • Financial Stability: One of the primary benefits of paying nonprofit employees a fixed average salary is that it provides financial stability. Employees can rely on a steady income stream regardless of performance or external factors such as the organization’s financial performance. To streamline administrative processes and ensure transparency in compensation, consider implementing a system for paystubs generated regularly, providing employees with clear documentation of their earnings and fostering more organized financial management within the nonprofit organization.
  • Reduced Competition: Fixed salaries can help reduce competition and foster a sense of teamwork among employees, as everyone is paid equally regardless of individual performance. This can create a more supportive work environment where employees are encouraged to collaborate and support one another.
  • Attract and Retain Talented Individuals: Using a fixed salary to pay nonprofit employees can help ensure that organizations attract and retain talented individuals who are committed to the mission and goals of the organization, rather than those who are solely motivated by financial gain. This can help create a more committed and dedicated workforce, which can ultimately benefit the organization and the people it serves.

Challenges of Fixed Compensation for Nonprofit Employees:

  • Lack of Motivation: One challenge of paying fixed compensation for nonprofit employees is that it may not provide sufficient motivation to perform at a high level. Without the potential for financial rewards based on performance, some employees may lack the incentive to go above and beyond in their work.
  • Inability to Adjust to Changing Circumstances: Another challenge of fixed compensation is that it may not allow for adjustments in pay to reflect changing circumstances, such as an employee taking on new responsibilities or the organization experiencing financial difficulties.
  • Difficulty in Attracting Talent: Finally, paying fixed compensation may make it more difficult for nonprofits to attract and retain top talent, particularly if other organizations in the sector are offering more competitive compensation packages. This can be particularly challenging for organizations that are trying to compete with for-profit companies for skilled workers.

While fixed compensation provides more stability and predictability for employees, variable compensation can be a powerful motivator for high performance and can help align employees’ goals with those of the organization.

Benefits of Variable Compensation for Nonprofit Employees:

  • Increased Motivation: One of the primary benefits of variable compensation for nonprofit employees is that it can increase motivation by providing financial rewards for high performance. This can encourage employees to work harder and strive to achieve specific goals or targets.
  • Flexibility to Adjust Pay: Another benefit of variable compensation is that it allows for more flexibility in adjusting pay to reflect changing circumstances. For example, if an employee takes on new responsibilities or the organization experiences financial difficulties, the pay structure can be adjusted to reflect these changes.
  • Attracting Top Talent: Finally, variable compensation can help nonprofits attract top talent by offering more competitive compensation packages. This can be particularly important for organizations that are competing with for-profit companies for skilled workers. By offering a variable compensation structure, nonprofits can demonstrate their commitment to rewarding high performance and providing opportunities for growth and advancement.

Challenges of Fixed Compensation for Nonprofit Employees:

  • Complexity and Administration: One challenge of offering variable compensation for nonprofit employees is the increased complexity and administration required to implement and manage the program. This can include developing performance metrics, tracking individual performance, and calculating payouts, all of which can be time-consuming and resource-intensive.
  • Inequity and Discontent: Another challenge of variable compensation is the potential for inequity and discontent among employees. If the performance metrics are not perceived as fair or transparent, some employees may feel that they are being unfairly disadvantaged or overlooked in the distribution of rewards.
  • Risk of Focusing on Short-Term Goals: Finally, variable compensation can create a risk of focusing too much on short-term goals at the expense of long-term strategic objectives. If the metrics are not well-aligned with the organization’s overall mission and goals, employees may prioritize activities that are not in the best interest of the organization in the long run.

What Factors Affect Nonprofit Salary Ranges?

The salaries of nonprofit employees are influenced by a variety of factors, including geographic location, organization size, nonprofit type, and duties and responsibilities. Understanding these factors is crucial for nonprofit leaders and employees alike looking to answer the question “what percentage of revenue should go towards salaries?”.

Geographic Location

Geographic location is a significant factor that impacts nonprofit organization salaries, as the cost of living and prevailing wages can vary widely across different regions. Nonprofits operating in high-cost metropolitan areas may need to pay higher salaries to remain competitive and attract top talent, while those operating in rural areas or regions with lower costs of living may be able to offer lower salaries.

Additionally, nonprofits that are located in regions with a strong nonprofit sector may face more competition for skilled workers, which can drive up compensation levels, especially when considering average nonprofit CEO salaries and nonprofit executive salaries.

Organization Size

Organization size is another key factor that can impact nonprofit compensation. Generally, larger organizations tend to have more resources and greater financial stability, which can allow them to offer more competitive compensation packages. Smaller organizations, on the other hand, may have more limited resources and be unable to offer salaries that are as high.

Smaller organizations may be able to offer other benefits, such as more flexible work arrangements or opportunities for professional development, that can make their compensation packages more attractive.

Organization Type

The type of nonprofit can also play a significant role in determining salaries. For example, nonprofits in highly regulated industries such as healthcare or education may be subject to specific salary regulations or requirements that affect their ability to pay competitive salaries.

Additionally, organizations that rely heavily on grant funding or other external funding sources may have more limited resources to allocate towards salaries. Nonprofits that have a greater ability to generate their own revenue, such as through fundraising or social enterprise activities, may have more flexibility to offer higher salaries.

Duties and Responsibilities

The duties and responsibilities of a nonprofit employee are another important factor that can impact salaries. Employees who have specialized skills or knowledge, or who are responsible for managing large teams or complex projects, may command higher salaries than those with more general responsibilities. This is why it’s very important that your human resources team helps to create job titles that are reflective of the salary, including your executive salaries.

Similarly, employees who have extensive experience in their field may be able to negotiate higher salaries based on their level of expertise.

Additionally, nonprofits may need to offer higher salaries to attract and retain employees for positions that are particularly challenging or demanding, such as those that involve working long hours or frequent travel.

Are Your Nonprofit Salaries Competitive?

Now that you understand some of the factors that go into your nonprofit salaries, it’s clear that failure to offer competitive salaries can make it difficult for nonprofits to attract and retain skilled employees, which can ultimately harm your ability to achieve their mission and goals.

To determine whether your salaries are competitive, Keela has created a nonprofit salary guide to support you.

Get the 2023 Comprehensive Guide to Nonprofit Salaries

This guide is complete with market rates, job description templates, and growth tools for American and Canadian Nonprofits.


Nonprofit employee salaries are a complex and multifaceted issue that can have a significant impact on an organization’s ability to achieve its mission and goals. While there are many factors that can affect nonprofit salaries, including geographic location, organization size, nonprofit type, and duties and responsibilities, it is important for nonprofits to ensure that their salaries are competitive within the market. By doing so, they can attract and retain talented individuals who are committed to their mission and goals.

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