News and analysis
May 14, 2014

Experts Question Survey Showing Dip in Fundraiser Pay

Experts questioned the accuracy of a new survey showing that the median salary of American fundraisers fell 8.5 percent last year to $65,000, saying the results contradict what’s going on in the industry.

“I don’t know of any salaries that are declining,” said Lois Lindauer, a Boston recruiter who places fundraisers nationwide. “Those findings do not jibe with the reality we see.”

The survey by the Association of Fundraising Professionals was released May 14.

Ms. Lindauer suggested the pay decline cited in the annual survey was almost certainly due to anomalies in the data rather than weakness in the job market.

The pay decline follows an 8-percent gain shown in the previous year’s survey, the biggest increase since 2007. The wide year-to-year difference is a signal that the survey results may be off-base, Lindauer said.

Andrew Watt, president of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, acknowledged that the pay decline in the new survey may have been caused by an “anomaly” in the 2012 data.

He noted that the salary data for 2010, 2011, and 2013 were “roughly the same.”

Mr. Watt agreed that the job market for fundraisers remains strong. “Given the continued growth in philanthropy, even with the recession, good fundraisers are in high demand,” Mr. Watt wrote in an email to The Chronicle. “There has always been a strong market for excellent fundraising skills, and I don’t see the end in sight anytime soon.”

The association’s survey is based on data from more than 2,900 members of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, but it is not necessarily a representative sample of groups of all sizes and causes.

To get a clearer picture of what is happening with pay, it would be optimum to conduct surveys with the same group of fundraisers over time, a type of research known as a panel study, said Patrick Rooney, an associate dean at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. The next best method, he said, would be to select a representative group of fundraisers who mirror those found in nonprofit organizations by choosing development officers based on the types of fundraising they do, the number of years they have spent in the field, and other characteristics.

The AFP survey tends to draw responses from entry- and mid-level professionals; half of the respondents reported they have less than a decade of experience in fundraising.  

 The survey found that a Certified Fundraising Executive credential, or CFRE, increased salary by about $25,000.

It also found that a growing share of fundraisers want to make a move; Forty-eight percent of respondents said they looked for a new job in the previous 12 months, up 5 percent from the year before.

Big Salaries

A recent study by The Chronicle, which examined tax forms filed by the nation’s largest charities, found that dozens of top fundraisers earned more than $500,000 in 2011, and two topped the $1-million mark.

The Chronicle study found that women were earning more than their male counterparts in the top ranks of fundraising.

The Association of Fundraising Professionals’s survey, however, has shown consistently since it began 13 years ago that salaries among female fundraisers lag behind men, and 2013 was no exception. Male fundraisers reported a median salary of $81,000, while the median for women was $62,000.

The AFP survey also found that the fundraising profession continues to struggle with a lack of ethnic diversity. More than 90 percent of the respondents were white, while 2 percent were black and 2 percent Hispanic.

Fundraising is populated mostly by older workers, the association’s survey suggested. More than half of respondents said they were more than 45 years of age, while another fifth reported they were 35 to 44.

The association’s study also offered a glimpse into the reasons so many fundraisers want to change jobs and the challenges they face:

• The top reasons respondents cited for thinking of leaving their current position included higher salary (42 percent), desire for additional responsibility and authority (36 percent), and frustration with their current work environment (30 percent).

• A deep connection to the nonprofit world matters to fundraisers, but doesn’t always trump a fatter paycheck. While 85 percent said they were committed to working for nonprofit groups, 45 percent said they would not work for less pay than they could earn elsewhere.

The “2013 AFP Compensation and Benefits Report” is available free to members of the association. Nonmembers may purchase the report for $150 by contacting the association’s professional advancement department at

Send an e-mail to Holly Hall.