The general public; fundraisers, tax payers and donating individuals have been asking a certain question for a while now. Can salaries be too high in the non-profit sector? International development and humanitarian workers receive varied wages depending on the source of funding and the type of work being done. Some receive atrocious salaries for the long hours and risky conditions, others are quite well paid to sit in nice offices, make trips to the field and earn nice tidy per diem rates. Foundations which depend on fundraisers and individuals tend to pay more conservatively while bilaterals and multi-laterals pay higher salaries. Summarily though, the bigger the nonprofit is, the better its salary usually. Charities like Oxfam, Restless Development, VSO, Merlin, Save the Children, War Child, Water Aid will pay anything between $29,000-$35,000 to Project Coordinators living and working in developing countries while executives at the HQ or Country Directors at the field level can earn up to $80,000 depending on the skills set, qualifications and experience.
For private contractors such as JSI, RTI, FHI 360, Chemonics, implementing projects for bilateral agencies such as the USAID, EU and DFID, project advisors may earn anything from $40,000-$60,000 while a head of project may earn as much as $100,000 and above. Indeed one finds that executives working for private companies implementing international development through bilateral agency funding may earn bonuses equivalent of one month’s salary or more per year. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, In 2010, one-third of nonprofits surveyed provided bonuses to their well-paid executives, and the median bonus was over $50,000. More than 20 nonprofit groups paid top executives more than $1 million a year in 2010 and 2011..
The multilateral agencies such as the UN, World bank and the corporate social responsibility branches of for profits (chiefly oil companies) are by far some of the highest paying agencies. Mid-level professionals working for these agencies would expect to earn as much or more than a university professor or a specialist in medicine in government regulated health services. The benefits tend to be great as well and may include health insurance and education for dependents amongst others. The range of salaries in nonprofit really depends on size of the organisation, funding stream, and how large its income is.
I read an interesting blog post recently where the question of how these organisations got their funding and what got to the frontline eventually was asked, and it stayed with me. Development, humanitarian assistance, charity work have all gone beyond ladling soup at the homeless shelter, or painting the walls of an oprhanage. These are great acts of kindness, and are still needed in the world today. However, the issues of disease, response to natural disasters, poverty, conflict, economic development and systems strengthening, democracy and governance are much more complicated. These need to be tackled through consistent planning and strategy before implementation. The work has become increasingly technical in a bid to meet the MDGs and whatever indicators the donor has set in conjunction with the host country’s government.
As Dan Pallotta; activist and fundraiser argues in his Ted talk video, is frugality equal to morality? These charities set big goals and work very hard at meeting those accomplishments, should they be rewarded for it? Not to take away from the awareness that they have raised about the issues, but sustainable development cannot be achieved by a 3 day trip to the Congo by Angelina Jolie or Ben Affleck, neither will a cure for cancer be found because a well meaning teenager stands in the drizzle in Edinburgh asking for change in a cancer research rain coat. Of course it all helps.
But eventually, we have to ask questions about the 55 yr old guy with a PhD in public health travelling from one health facility to another in the DRC to ensure that the malaria Diagnosis specialists in those facilities are using the rapid diagnostic testing appropriately, or that variations between microscopy and RDTs are recorded, all towards the prevention and control of malaria. One should ask about the researchers spending hours and hours working on potential cure for cancer, practically putting their lives on hold. What about those workers who dedicate their careers towards the management of HIV/AIDS, or finding a vaccine, or dealing with lead poisoning in rural communities where mining activities are not regulated? It’s really quite complex. Shouldn’t governments be taking more responsibility with regulations and integrity issues (more on this another post).
How should the nonprofit sector determine its salaries and benefits? What sort of people do we want running these foundations and multimillion dollar nonprofits organizations? Should nonprofits be discouraged from becoming so large?
But at the end of the day, as human beings, is it possible to think about these salaries though, and not wonder if anybody deserves to live so lavishly off the generosity of others? Should anyone working in aid and development whine so much (as I have seen daily in this sector) about perceived low salaries, or comparatively low salaries (when compared to organization A or B). Will the notion of nonprofit and its complexities be ever understood as non-for-conventional-profit? How much work and impact have these nonprofits achieved? Has charity been used as a tax evasion tactic by donors and nonprofit workers alike?
I personally, am quite ambivalent about so many of these issues. What are you thoughts? On giving to nonprofits or working in the sector?