Business Administration

The 7 Highest-Paying Jobs at Nonprofits—And Which Degrees Are Needed

The 7 Highest-Paying Jobs at Nonprofits—And Which Degrees Are Needed
While the main goal of for-profit organizations is to make money through the sale of products or services, nonprofits eschew motivation for financial gain and instead advocate for a specific community need. Image from Unsplash
Mairead Kelly profile
Mairead Kelly April 6, 2020

When working for a nonprofit, you definitely want to be passionate about its cause—but you probably also want to be excited about its pay, too.

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If you’d like to spend your days helping people or working for a cause you feel passionate about, finding a job at a nonprofit might be for you. Focused on a socially-driven mission rather than financial gain, nonprofit careers offer an opportunity to earn a living while doing something that makes getting out of bed every morning feel, well, good.

While the main goal of for-profit organizations is to make money through the sale of products or services, nonprofits eschew motivation for financial gain and instead advocate for a specific community need.

Shelters and soup kitchens can easily come to mind when considering nonprofits. But there are many other types of organizations functioning within the tax-exempt world. Take advocacy groups, for example, which work for social change. Public safety charities also exist and are dedicated to promoting safe, secure, and sustainable living.

Some public charities receive the funds from a large base of donors, including individuals, corporations, and possibly governmental grants. These organizations can span schools, hospitals, churches, and other institutions that serve the public, whether by supporting the arts, funding medical research, or championing human rights.

The work of these organizations is crucial, especially at times when government agencies and the private sector scale back on charitable giving. And since nonprofits typically depend on donations, grants, and government contracts, salaries in this sector tend to be lower than their for-profit counterparts. Still, this doesn’t mean you can’t earn a decent living or reach other financial goals.

It may also help to know that nonprofit jobs often try to supplement a pay cut with benefits packages that may include flexible hours, generous vacation time, educational opportunities, and professional development support—all things often missing from traditional corporate life.

While salaries in nonprofit work depend on the nature of the organization, its size, as well as your role in it, high-paying nonprofits jobs typically exist in management and leadership. These jobs, in particular, prove that nonprofit work can be both altruistic and financially worthwhile.

The highest-paying jobs at nonprofits

__7. Program Director: $60,000

Program directors carry out a wide range of tasks to further their organizations’ missions. Because no two missions are typically the same, their responsibilities will vary from one organization to the next. However, they do tend to share some overlap.

The nonprofit management consulting organization Bridgespan Group outlines the position as one with responsibilities across leadership, team management and development, and program operational management.

This includes developing strategic initiatives and long-term goals to support their program’s success, whether planning an annual budget or operational plan, employee evaluation framework, or funding proposals.

While program directors are generally required to have a bachelor’s degree, some employers may require candidates to have a master’s degree related to their specific organization. Common areas of study include social work, business administration, and public health.

__6. Communications Director: $65,000

Communications directors control the flow of information between their organization and the public. In larger organizations, they may manage a communications team and be tasked to keep their employees up-to-date on internal procedures or the status of certain projects.

It’s also typically for those in this role to devote a significant amount of time and effort to fundraising campaigns by fostering relationships with donors and handling fundraising efforts like public relations campaigns and media events.

For the most part, communications directors usually need to hold a bachelor’s degree. Some organizations may give preference to candidates with a master’s degree in fields like public relations, journalism, corporate communications, and marketing.

__5. Major Gifts Officer: $68,800

Major gift officers or MGOs lead all things related to “major giving” or the largest gifts their organization receives. Some larger organizations consider gifts over $100,000 to be major, while others might consider $2,000 to be a substantial contribution.

From hosting events with major donors, leveraging board members’ networks, or pitching a program’s case for large donations, they build relationships with people who have the capability and inclination to donate a major gift.

Additionally, this role is partly tied to organization size. MGOs at large nonprofits are likely to be part of a team of officers, whereas a smaller organization may require this professional to take on a broader scope of responsibilities.

Aspiring MGOs typically need a bachelor’s degree and professional experience in their field. While the position does not usually require a highly-specialized educational background, some candidates may seek out Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) certification from the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

__4. Development Director: $70,000

Development directors have a primary responsibility to raise money for their organizations. Generally, this means creating and implementing a strategy for donor solicitation and identifying funding sources like grants, in-kind donations, corporate sponsorship, and charitable events.

It’s also common for professionals in this high-level position to work closely with their organization’s Chief Executive Officer to develop strategic fundraising plans and provide its board of directors with regular reports on progress regarding annual and quarterly revenue goals.

Development director roles will typically call a bachelor’s degree in a field like business, nonprofit administration, or public administration. In some cases, employers may prefer candidates with a master of public administration degree as it signifies expertise in public relations, as well as fundraising, organizational, and project management.

__3. Advocacy Director: $72,300

As the name suggests, a big part of this role involves advocating for your organization’s mission. For advocacy directors, this results in an ongoing effort to engage representatives, policymakers, the community, donors, and other stakeholders concerning the issues most closely related to their organization’s purpose as well as its services to promote legislative change.

Advocacy covers a wide scope of activities, from grassroots organizing, public education, policy research, statements on issues, coalition building, election activities, litigation, and even boycotts. Ultimately, it includes any activity that helps elevate the voice of an organization or the individuals and groups it supports.

Some candidates enter this position with a bachelor’s degree and experience in fundraising, event planning, and program coordination. Others may choose to earn a master’s degree specific to their industry focus, such as education, social work, public administration, or public policy.

__2. Chief Operating Officer: $110,000

Similar to Chief Operating Officers (COOs) employed by for-profit businesses, these nonprofit executives typically oversee no particular department but instead monitor them all. To do this, COOs partner with departmental leaders to ensure they stay on track to meet their goals and understand their department’s role in relation to others, as well as the organization’s overall mission.

As part of their organization’s executive management team, COOs are also tasked to develop long-term operational strategies to achieve the broad mission-oriented goals as outlined by the CEO and board of directors. They’ll also work with human resources to support their organization’s staffing needs, which may include making the final call on hiring, discipline, and termination.

While the minimum educational requirement is a bachelor’s degree in business or a related subject, most organizations prefer candidates with a master of business administration degree. Additionally, COOs will typically need to have extensive experience within the industry or field their organization operates.

__1. Chief Executive Officer: $115,000

Unlike corporate Chief Executive Officers (CEOs), this nonprofit executive commonly plays a smaller role in the strategic direction of their organization. Instead, they work with their board of directors, gathering insight and providing advice on the practicality of the board’s vision based on factors like the organization’s budget, resources, and staff expertise.

From here, they take responsibility for pushing the board’s vision and directing the organization’s mission on a day-to-day basis, which may include managing programs, finances, volunteer or community outreach services, and leadership training. They also commonly take an active role in human resource, fundraising, and marketing initiates.

Like any seat in the nonprofit c-suite, this one requires candidates to have a bachelor’s degree. Some may seek out a master’s degree in business administration, management, public administration, human services, or a related field to enhance their prospects in a competitive applicant pool.

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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