News and analysis
September 15, 2015

Women Nonprofit Leaders Still Make Less Than Men, Survey Finds

The headline hasn’t changed.

Salaries for women continue to lag behind men in comparable positions at nonprofits of all sizes, according to a new report from GuideStar.

The gap is most pronounced for women chief executives at groups with budgets of $2.5 million to $5 million, who take home 23 percent less than male peers.

Female CEO pay was closest to those of men at organizations with budgets of less than $250,000, earning 6 percent less.

"I just don’t really think that people are serious enough about equitable pay for women," says Chuck McLean, vice president for research at GuideStar and the author of the report. "We’ve been doing this since the beginning of the century, and we just haven’t seen any dramatic changes.

During the last decade, organizations with budgets of $1 million or less and $50 million or more saw the pay gap narrow slightly. Those with budgets in the $1-million to $50-million range saw it widen.

The report, based on 2013 data that nonprofits filed with the Internal Revenue Service, covers some 154,000 positions at about 105,000 organizations. The report included data for 96,225 chief executives and 3,815 development directors. Generally, IRS rules require disclosure of pay for top nonprofit officials making more than $100,000 and also for up to 20 key employees in certain job categories at any salary level. As a result, the data in the GuideStar report reflects salary trends among the highest-paid nonprofit workers.

Among development directors, the pay gap is most pronounced at organizations with budgets of $500,000 to $1 million, where median earnings for men were 13 percent higher than for women.

Changes at the Top

The percentage of female chief executives declined slightly, from 46 percent in 2003 to 43 percent in 2013.

"Earlier in the century, women tended to really dominate at the smaller organizations and lagged behind at the larger organizations," says Mr. McLean. "Today, men are starting to have more success getting CEO jobs in smaller organizations, but women are not having that much success in getting CEO positions in larger organizations."

Though since 2003 women have made gains at nonprofits with budgets greater than $10 million, they still represent a small proportion of leaders at large groups Just 18 percent of groups with budgets of more than $50 million had female chief executives in 2013.

Over all, pay has been increasing for men and women, though raises continue to lag behind pre-recession rates. In 2008, median salary increases for chief executives were at least 4 percent. That’s higher than any time since then, through 2013.

"I’m surprised that those increases haven’t gotten back to what I considered normal five years ago," says Mr. McLean. With so much scrutiny about what leaders of large organizations are paid, this may be the new normal, he says.

Women chief executives generally received bigger salary increases than men at organizations of most sizes, although the difference was more stark at small organizations. From 2012 to 2013, women leading nonprofits with budgets of $250,000 or less received an average 1.3-percent raise compared with the average 0.4-percent raise for men.

Other findings:

  • Leaders of health and science nonprofits had the highest overall median salaries — $153,751 and $139,022, respectively. Religion and animal-related organizations had the lowest median pay for chief executives, at $62,500 and $65,203, respectively.
  • For the 10th straight year, nonprofit leaders in Washington, D.C., had the highest median salary — $154,500 — among the top 20 metropolitan areas. Median salaries for chief executives in St. Louis, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Atlanta bring up the rear.

Copies of the 2015 "GuideStar Nonprofit Compensation Report" are available for $374 at

Send an e-mail to Eden Stiffman.