A Roundup of Nonprofit Compensation Reports: Strengths + Weaknesses

Staff + Volunteer Teams,

There are many different sources of compensation data available to job seekers and employers. This post is part of a series on compensation in nonprofit organizations in Maine and provides a brief overview of the different sources to help you decide which sources make the most sense for your purpose. This is not a comprehensive list of available resources.

It is a good idea to use more than one survey if possible to give you multiple points of reference. As I’ve mentioned in prior articles in this series, setting compensation is as much art as it is science and there are many variables such as the available workforce in your area, your organization’s compensation philosophy, and budget and/or contract constraints. In most situations, using one primary source (such as MANP’s report) and one other survey that can give you either broader insights into your particular subsector or the market where you compete for talent, is sufficient. You may be able to use a free executive summary for your secondary source. You will want to include additional sources (3-5) when your organization takes on a full compensation review.

In general, when using any of the data sources below, be cognizant of the following:

  • In what time period are the reported salaries collected?
  • How big is the sample size?
  • What are the demographics of the organizations included and how closely do they match your organization’s?
  • How were the data collected and how were they analyzed?
  • Does it include any data on benefits or non-wage compensation?

MANP’s 2020 Report on Nonprofit Wages + Benefits in Northern New England

MANP began collecting and reporting compensation data in 1997 and has continued collecting this data typically every two years. In recent years, Vermont and New Hampshire joined forces with Maine allowing for the easy sharing of data across Northern New England.

As in past years, the 2020 Report [2022 report now available!] includes considerable detail on Maine practices, some summary information across the entire region, and new data on the effects of the pandemic. Additionally, MANP members may access the full reports published by New Hampshire Center for Nonprofits and Common Good Vermont at their member rates, if they want more data on those states than is included in the Maine edition.

  • Cost: $0 – participating member organizations up to $250 – non-member, non-participating organizations
  • Free Executive Summary: Yes
  • Strengths:
    • Local – geographically specific
    • 30+ job categories found in many nonprofit organizations
    • Strong history of respondent participation that is typically representative of the nonprofit sector as a whole
    • Questions honed over years to be clear and unambiguous
    • Closely analyzed results to insure accuracy
    • Includes robust data on non-wage compensation
  • Weaknesses:
    • Local – geographically specific. Strengths can also be weaknesses – if you are trying to recruit nationally, it would be good to understand the markets from your recruits’ areas.
    • While participation is strong, many breakdowns result in very small sample sizes. The smaller the data set, the less likely the results predict that actual behavior of the nonprofit sector in Maine as a whole.
    • It is a survey which means it can be hard to identify places where respondents did not follow or read the directions. The most common example of this is respondents reporting wage information for employees whose job description doesn’t match the limited number of job categories surveyed.
National Surveys

There are compensation data sets that can provide a large number of data points on a large number of industries and job categories. Here are some examples of these types of data sets:

Guidestar/Candid: Guidestar’s report is not a traditional survey. They mine data from nonprofit tax forms (990s) to produce their annual survey. See this flyer to understand who is required to report their compensation. This report includes 14 job categories such as CEO/Executive Director, Top HR Position, Top Development Position, and Top Finance Position.

  • Cost: $399
  • Free Executive Summary: No, but there is a sample report and media release with a few key data points
  • Strengths
    • Many data points: “177,542 observations from 113,103 nonprofits”
    • Sub-reports by gender, region, budget size, mission area and more
    • Excellent data for larger organizations with more than one executive leadership position
  • Weaknesses
    • Job categories are not specific positions – they are a compilation of a number of reported job titles. The 990 doesn’t provide detail on job duties.
    • Data is old by the time it is available. The 2020 report is based on FY 2018 990s because of the lag time between year-end and the due date for the tax return
    • Smaller organizations will not find comparable data
    • Unless the pdf has improved since 2019, there is no navigable table of contents and with over 5,000 pages, it makes it difficult to navigate.
    • No non-wage compensation data

Open990.org provides a wealth of free access to compensation datasets as big or as “snack-sized” as you like – “1.9 million nonprofits. Zero paywalls.”  Similar to the Guidestar/Candid product, the data is mined from nonprofit tax forms (990s).

  • Cost: $0
  • Free Executive Summary: N/A
  • Strengths
    • Free
    • Excellent data for larger organizations with more than one executive leadership position
    • Great for data-enthusiasts – large csv data sets which can be filtered, analyzed and customized.
    • Free email notifications for data set -updates
    • Frequently updated using a variety of free sources
  • Weaknesses
    • Smaller organizations will not find comparable data.
    • Files can be very large & difficult to use for the uninitiated.
    • Job categories are not specific positions – they are a compilation of a number of reported job titles. The 990 doesn’t provide detail on job duties.

SHRM has partnered with Salary.com to provide on demand customized data on over 15,000 job titles for over 225 industries. They have built a large database using data from many surveys conducted around the country.  These surveys range from comprehensive national, all industry surveys, to specific regional or industry surveys.

  • Cost: $245 – non-member price for each query (one job with filters)
  • Free Executive Summary: N/A
  • Strengths
    • Tons of data points for almost every job description
    • Easy to customize and get what you are looking for when you want it
    • Appears to commit significant resources to the accuracy and currency of the data
    • National scope
  • Weaknesses
    • Where data points and available comparisons are slim – as may well be in nonprofit positions and in a small rural state – they use “mathematical algorithms to interpolate insufficient or missing data.” This may or may not result in accurate data in all situations. National data used to interpolate Maine salaries can result in salaries that are higher than the actual practices here.
    • No non-wage compensation data

Economic Research Institute (ERI): This organization has been in the salary business for a long time and more emphasis is placed on the data than the marketing. The process and results are fairly technical, but provides solid data for “369 benchmark jobs across all US nonprofit sectors from art centers to zoos.” They mine data from several places including through their own surveying.

  • Cost: $259 for Participants, $759 for Non-participants
  • Free Executive Summary: No, but they have a wonderful collection of free whitepapers on a variety of topics – some including compensation data.
  • Strengths
    • Well-respected company
    • Many data points including sub-sector specific jobs such as Animal Trainer, Curator, Patient Transporter, Psychologist, Horticulturist, and Interpreter
    • Data is very current (available in July for data collected through March)
  • Weaknesses
    • Complicated process for ordering reports
    • May not have many relevant data points in Maine
    • No non-cash compensation data
Free Online Services
  • Salary.com: As noted above, salary.com partners with SHRM, and also provides many different products including a nonprofit industry report for $1,990 for organizations who participate in their survey. For organizations who do not want to participate or are not in the sector, the cost is $6,990. Your data is valuable!!
    Their free service allows you to enter a job title into the search bar and set a few parameters to get an analysis. I’ve tried it on several jobs and it seems to be fairly accurate; however, some of the factors like education and numbers of direct reports can sometimes return suspect shifts. The interface is a little hard to navigate due to the aggressive ad placement.
  • Glassdoor.com: This is a site where people rate their employers and post their salaries anonymously. These reported salaries are not confirmed, but it has become a popular place to check for market-rate salaries. The search is easy, but the sample sizes can be quite small. You can check a couple of positions before being required to set up an online account.
  • SalaryList.com: This site is an interesting concept in that it reports company submissions to departments of labor. Sadly, there don’t seem to be many nonprofit companies represented in the data. The search function is woefully inadequate.
Sub-Sector Specific Surveys

National associations, such as the American Library Association or Council on Foundations, survey their members and publish the results. Additionally, some local associations do this occasionally as well, such as the Maine Land Trust Network

Other Ideas
  • Custom Report: If there is a dearth of good, local salary information for key positions in your organization, consider partnering with your peers or encouraging any statewide organization to which you belong to conduct a customized salary survey. MANP can help you find a consultant to help.
  • View Job Postings: Additionally, MANP now requires job posters to the Nonprofit Job Board to include a salary range. These postings could be a source of information.
  • View Compensation Data on Form 990s: If you are looking to hire an executive position, you can view the 990s of any nonprofit and mine data from their tax returns. This data will likely be at least two years old.
  • Apply a Cost-of-Living Adjustment to Older Data: If you have prior year compensation data, you can apply the appropriate cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to estimate the current job market. COLA is a measure of inflation and there are different formulas designed for different purposes. The US Government applies increases in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) to Social Security benefits. This data set is a reasonable choice for adjusting old salary data. Use caution when applying this method as very few nonprofit employers provide COLA raises, and the MANP data has shown in the past that different job categories perform very differently in relation to inflation.

Organizations have many free and not-so-free options for comparing their compensation practices to the wider community. Boards should engage every few years in reviewing the organization’s compensation philosophy and annually in the art and science of ensuring appropriate compensation for the executive director. They should also support the staff in allocating the time and resources to do periodic full-compensation reviews. MANP is here to support these efforts and has a trove of resources to help you do this and do it well.

Additional Resources

About the Author

Brenda PelusoAfter a 20-year career with the Maine Association of Nonprofits (MANP) and 5-years as the first director of operations for Dietel & Partners, a philanthropic advisory firm, Brenda started a consulting business in July of 2019. Brenda provides interim leadership, operational assessments and improvements, and research and reporting to Maine nonprofit organizations.

While at MANP, Brenda created and managed the bi-annual Report on Nonprofit Wages & Benefits, conceptualized and managed the bi-annual “Partners in Prosperity” report which is now called “Adding up Impact.” She also re-launched the MANP Advocacy Program while serving as the Director of Operations and Public Policy. While at Dietel & Partners, Brenda was responsible for all business operations and enjoyed engaging in work around reducing the power dynamics in philanthropy.

Consulting clients have included: Preble Street, Maine Children’s Alliance, Foundation for Portland Public Schools, Engine, and MaineShare.

Prior to working at MANP, Brenda was a high school math teacher. Brenda serves on the boards of the Locker Project and Genesis Community Loan Fund. She is passionate about her family, especially her two adult children, her circle of good friends, and her amazing colleagues in the nonprofit sector. She lives in South Portland with her pug, Ozzy.