12 Shockingly High Nonprofit CEO Salaries

Living & Spending, Success Stories
on August 29, 2014
12 Highest Nonprofit CEO Salaries

Out of 3,929 charities reviewed in Charity Navigator’s 2013 CEO Compensation Study, a whopping 78 of the CEOs mentioned reportedly earned salaries between $500,000 and $1 million. The study revealed many donors simply assume these leaders work for free or minimal pay. It’s easy to forget that these large charities are multi-million dollar operations.

Are these high-earning execs pulling a fair salary for their good works, or are their impressive salaries questionable considering the nature of their work?

Several states, including New York, New Jersey, Florida and Massachusetts, have pushed legislation to limit the salary of nonprofit CEOs who accept public funding. Florida pushed for a limit of $129,972, while Massachusetts suggested $500,000 (Forbes). New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told Forbes, “These regulations will allow the state government to identify and stop the few providers that pocket taxpayer dollars rather than use them to serve the public.”

When qualified talent is already earning less than what would be offered by a for-profit company, the issue comes down to a question of whether or not a strong corporate culture is crucial to the success of these charities. In the corporate world, a higher salary results in a greater value. While looking at CEO compensation for these charities is only one number, if their talent results in greater revenue for the organization, the level of income may be justifiable. Take a look at this list of 12 nonprofit CEOs raking in a staggering annual salary, and let us know what you think in the comments section below.

William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

Laurance Hoagland Jr., Chief Investment Officer of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation earns a hefty salary of $2.5 million. The Hewlett Foundation has a wide range of goals—reducing global poverty, limiting the risk of climate change, advancing education, improving reproductive health rights and supporting local performing arts. (Huffington Post)

American Cancer Society

John Seffrin, CEO of American Cancer Society, earns $2.1 million, while also serving at the White House on the public health advisory group. The American Cancer Society is the world’s largest voluntary health organization fighting cancer. (Huffington Post)

Boys & Girls Club of America

Roxanne Spillett, President of Boys & Girls Clubs of America, earns $1.8 million at an organization with expenses exceeding $130 million (CNN Money). The Boys & Girls Club provides educational after-school programs for more than 4,000 chapters, serving around 4 million children. (Huffington Post)

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Emily K. Rafferty, President of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, earns nearly $1.5 million. The Met was founded in 1870 to encourage the study and application of fine arts. The Met’s yearly expenses have reached $386 million (CNN Money). (Charity Navigator)

Los Angeles Opera

Placido Domingo, General Director of the Los Angeles Opera earns $1.35 million. Domingo is an opera singer and conductor as well, performing in more than 3,600 shows. Domingo has won twelve Grammy’s and has played a role in three opera films. This charitable CEO played a voice role in Disney’s Beverly Hills Chihuahua. (Huffington Post)

The Kennedy Center for Performing Arts

Michael Kaiser, President of the JFK Center for Performing Arts in Washington D.C., earns $1.348 million. Kaiser previously worked for the Royal Opera House and was a corporate advisor before focusing on the arts, working for clients like GM and IBM. The Kennedy Center seeks the best performers from around the world, while striving to be a leader in arts education. (Huffington Post)

Metropolitan Opera Association

Peter Gelb, General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera Association in New York, earns $1.3 million. The Met Opera hosts more than 200 performances every year with some of the world’s most creative and talented artists worldwide. Gelb has had a lifelong love of the opera. He began working at the Met Opera at 17 years old as an usher. Now, as General Manager, Gelb earns $78K in benefits. The Met Opera is currently undergoing a drop in attendance and severe labor negotiations, discussing cuts of 17 percent their annual compensation (New York Observer). (Huffington Post)

Museum of Modern Art, New York

Glenn Lowry, Chief Executive of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, earns $1.2 million. Notably, the museum raised admission costs in 2012, while the CEO still receives $318K in housing to live free of charge in a $6 million apartment in MoMA’s residential tower. (Huffington Post)

United Way Worldwide

Brian A. Gallagher, President and CEO of United Way Worldwide, earns $1.2 million. United Way was founded in 1887 to transport leaders and support to 41 countries and territories around the world. Groups promote educational and health initiatives to suffering communities. (Charity Navigator)

J. Paul Getty Trust

James Williams, Chief Investment Officer of the J. Paul Getty Trust in Los Angeles, earns $1.2 million. The Getty, one of the world’s wealthiest art institutions, is dedicated to carefully presenting and conserving the world’s artistic legacy. After cutting back on several programs and employees and raising parking costs during the recession, Williams was able to maintain his more-than-agreeable salary. (Huffington Post)

National Jewish Health

Michael Salem, President and CEO of National Jewish Health, earns a salary of just over $1 million. National Jewish Health is the leading hospital for respiratory care in the United States. (Charity Navigator)


Michael Miller, CEO of Goodwill, earns $856,043. Goodwill uses donations to train people for jobs who are currently unemployed. After being ridiculed by the Oregon Department of Justice for an “unreasonable” salary, Miller continues with compensation surpassing $850,000. During Miller’s time at Goodwill, he has increased revenue up to 107 percent to a record $135.5 million, while adding 1,000 jobs since 2004. The number of people served through Goodwill has increased from 11,694 to 52,170 during Miller’s leadership, perhaps proving the benefit of well-paid charity CEOs (Portland Business Journal).

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  • invisiblebusinesswoman

    Yet another blog posting totally incorrect information, gathered from other blogs doing the same, instead of researching the material. Read Snopes: http://www.snopes.com/politics/business/charities.asp

    • Emily

      I know the non-profit I work for is listed, and I can vouch that after looking over their tax return, the information listed is correct. I’m going to have to disagree with your comment.

    • GingerKat

      Anyone that believes everything Snopes debunks is naive at best.

    • Thunderboy1

      Ha ! “Read Snopes” !! Good one!! Because everything on the internet is true!!

    • Do you seriously believe everything you read on Snopes? LMAO You do know that is run by a couch couple right?

      • nunbunz

        They got the Make-A-Wish thing wrong, too. The CEO gets a lot of money! When they found out that people withdrew their support because they let a kid go hunting for Polar Bears in the spring, they changed the killing of animals thing! Yeah, I’m dying, so I want to kill something. Sweet! Butt holes!

  • Michael Hiteshew

    That ARE non profit. Everything that could be classified as profit has been divvied up by the administrators. Yachts ain’t cheap, ya know.

  • dotag69

    ..You get what you pay for….I would be willing do run one of these organizations for 20% of what the CEOs are making now, but I know I would do a shitty job….If you want someone who knows what they are doing, you must pay them accordingly…

    • MPaq

      Finally, someone with a comment that makes sense. The view that society has towards the non-profit world is atrocious. To choose a career in the charitable sector, based on some of the comments above, one must first sacrifice their first-born, give up one of their kidneys, have someone shit in their mouths regularly and endure endless torture on an hourly basis. And why? Because this is the non-profit world.

      • GingerKat

        Because it suits you, it makes cents, right. What is atrocious is the hidden powers behind the non profit, . org racket. I refuse to ever fund them again.

      • No, None is saying they shouldn’t make money. But to put their salaries that high is ridiculous. CEO’s hand out orders for the volunteers to do. Maybe we should start making sure they get paid!!!

    • GingerKat

      Ha haaa if you think the CEO are the wheels behind the machine you are really off the mark.

      • IKR… what about the million volunteers who work their asses off for $0.00 – LITTLE … while the CEO gets his FAT check??? And we ALL know people who volunteer, so any type of attempt at a rebuttal on this subject is mute in my opinion. Agree? ; )

    • Jim Britt

      NOBODY IS WORTH MILLIONS A YEAR! The highest paid CEO should be limited by law to 10 times the base pay of the lowest paid employee

    • grammaob

      20% of 1.2 million is $240,000, which is decent pay even for someone who does know what they’re doing.

    • hummingbird

      What great work are they doing to solve poverty? They get a huge salary by selling the donations for a price, instead of giving them to the needy for free!

  • Kristine Pekarsky Cappadona

    There should be a cap on executive compensation for non-profits.
    Hardworking people, many middle class, donate their hard earned money to
    help those less fortunate and it’s lining the pockets of the executives
    with high compensation. Just not right. I hope all 50 states pass a
    law to cap executive compensation.

    • MPaq

      You are insane. How the hell are society’s problems supposed to disappear if the organizations that are charged with the task of addressing them does not have the resources it requires to get the job done?!?!?!

      • GingerKat

        You the one that’s insane, does it appear to you that anything is getting better, you have not a clue!

        • MPaq

          I’ve been in the charitable sector for more than 20 years and i know what I am talking about. How is legislation that minimizes the impact that charities can have in the communities they serve not insane?

          • Again… the only amount that is in question is what goes into the CEO’s pocket. A higher % needs to go back out to helping the community. I think you are reading this wrong.

      • wandjmoore

        Heart ppl get the resources without the greed that goes with it from the dippers.

      • The money is supposed to go towards helping others, but you see how much they pocket???? That’s what being discussed here. Not the amount that gets distributed like it should.

      • grammaob

        your comment isn’t clear – could you restate?

      • hummingbird

        What has their huge private salary, donated by unsuspecting donors, to do with the resources required to run a program? These people (CEOs) are nothing but parasites!

      • Lynn Riddlesprigger

        you apparently don’t understand the info you are receiving on salaries this is after expenses

    • wandjmoore

      Totally agree. Should be $100k max and this weed out individuals that do not have their hearts in helping others. Any above is vulgar and dipping.

      • diablo135

        Why 100k? Where did you get that number?

      • Joshua

        Why 100k? After taxes the ceo or owner is left with about half. Why not just let it be up to the non profit what the higher ups pay is? I mean it’s not like they’re getting the entire amount of revenue the non profit receives. Let’s say the non profit receives $5mil per year and the ceo or owner gets $300,000 per year. That’s nearly 5% of the non profits revenue going to the ceo and the other money is going to the employees and outreach. Please think before you speak.

    • diablo135

      What would you cap it at and why that number?

  • Oscura Diosa

    Just do not donate if you do not believe the money is being put to good use. When I hear .20 – .30 cents of my dollar goes to the charity and the rest is spent on crap I just do not donate.

    • Preston Onwards

      The problem with that is most people don’t think of doing that kind of research before donating.

  • Hawkeye426

    It truly is an outrage to think a Non-For Profit Organization would allow a CEO to make more money than the average Op-Co CEO in NA while delivering poor YOY returns.. There should be a standard capped “base annual salary” for leaders of NFPO’s. In addition there should be a standard profit to earnings bonus ratio to motivate & reward the CEO to drive the NFPO to higher earnings with balanced net asset placement (the % of growth income is balanced and actually making it to the needy on the same or improved % ratio). If the CEO is doing the job they are paid to do and doing it well they should be rewarded with a simple bonus structure. We have to question, “what behaviors are we driving when paying high salaries”? There is absolutely nothing wrong with a NFPO CEO earning 7 figures if they are delivering growth of income, profit and balanced net asset placement. However, under several current pay structures it is absolute collusion and steeling, (sorry to be blunt).

    • Thunderboy1

      Stealing, or “steeling” as you say, is illegal. What these CEO’s are doing is LEGAL and above board. Look at the Goodwill CEO. Increased job opportunities and provided 107% growth in the charity. I’d say helping literally millions of people is worth a good salary. And he’s not even making a million a year. The average annual salary of a CEO in the private for profit sector is $1.3 million. So he’s still below average.

      • nickanthony82 .

        The only problem with that is that your figures are probably all made up just to justify his salary.the truth is that most of these people all had important jobs before and they made the right friends and we’re chosen to sit on this board where they get millions for doing absolutely nothing. The system is rigged.

  • chill

    “Several states, including New York, New Jersey, Florida and
    Massachusetts, have pushed legislation to limit the salary of nonprofit
    CEOs who accept public funding.”

    How ironic! I’d rather there be legislation to limit the salaries of the LAWMAKERS, especially on the national level. That is where the corruption and out-of-control spending, without accountability, really is.

    • nickanthony82 .

      It really doesn’t matter because these ceos are the 1% that donate to the lawmakers and Hilary Clinton to keep them in power. So they all work together. Your donation to the American cancer association is also going into politicians pockets.

  • Jim Britt

    NOBODY working for a charity should earn more than $150,000 a year!

    If the REAL WORK is done by unpaid people the CEO shouldn’t be paid.

    • Joshua

      So if you’re the owner or ceo and you started the non profit and are putting in work to keep it going and that’s all you do for a living then you shouldn’t get anything from it? That’s absurd, and no more than 150,000 a year? Really? What most ceo’s make from non profits doesn’t even touch the total revenue for whatever non profit he or she is working for.

  • Jim Britt

    NOBODY IS WORTH MILLIONS A YEAR! The highest paid CEO should be limited by law to 10 times the base pay of the lowest paid employee; if the people work for nighing so shoud the CEO

    • Jane Ernst Ticehurst

      Typical liberal nonsense. Th value of someone running an organization with $100,000,000 a year in revenue is entitled to a large paycheck. His/her responsibilities, not to mention their education/experience and their ability to earn even more in a for-profit company, are certainly enough reasons to earn more than 10 times the salary of the lowest paid employee.

      • Jim Britt

        you are a fool. NOBODY is worth over $500,000 a year, NOBODY!

        The real work in most charities are done by unpaid volenteers while the top dogs sit on their butts getting all the credit and millions of dollars. If the CEO is paid EVERYONE should get paid. Salaries over $500,000 a year should be taxed at 90%

  • Renee D Frey

    This is all bullshit. Most are not getting this kind of momey. You can pull the finances from IRS. Is crap like this that cause people not to donate.

    • nickanthony82 .

      What does the ceo of aca make then? I’ve read two reports now that say over 2 million. If you found something different, please share.


      links please.

  • hummingbird

    There should be no executives at all at nonprofits. I am sure the donating public has no idea about what profitable businesses Goodwill and others like it are. Those CEOs live in splendor off the donations of generous people. Parasites they are!

    Instead of giving things to these CEOs, I will give my donations directly to people standing at street corners.

    • Joshua

      So you don’t think there should executive or corporate structure of a company or non profit and you don’t think the higher ups of a non profit should get paid with all the work they do? Interesting…

  • Angel Davis Powers

    the only two organizations i give to is “St. Judes” and The Shriners.. the rest is all about the money and the CEO’s getting paid…

    • jsomerlea

      I agree Angel and donate to “Operation Smile” for poor indigenous children with disfigured Cleft lip and

  • Cate

    How is a nonprofit going to succeed if they don’t have good management? You can’t attract talent if you don’t pay a competitive salary. These CEOs are very talented, educated people. Check out this TED talk, it explains this well: http://blog.ted.com/a-new-way-to-judge-nonprofits-dan-pallotta-at-ted2013/

  • Julia Cichon

    With all these charities around you’d expect to see some improvements in the health insurance and homeless problems.

  • Lou Montana

    Piss on all of them! Not one donation or any help at all when I had cancer!

  • ben

    Foundations are nothing but scams

  • MPaq

    A fact no one wishes to acknowledge is the the absence of highly qualified and effective leaders in the charitable sector. As Mr. Pallotta reminds us, the greatest leaders produced by Ivy Leagues colleges go straight to the private sector after graduation because compensation is higher. I don’t have any stats to back this up, but I would certainly hypothesize that turnover in leadership positions are significantly higher in the charitable sector than the private ream. Why should the business sector get all the great leaders?!?!?!? Do you not think if the charitable sector attracted and retained some blue chip leadership prospects, they might actually begin to solve some the problems and issues they were established to address?

  • Peter Paul

    you people are all insane. first of all, anyone who gives to any of these charities is an idiot. employees of these charities take the spoils for themselves. I have talked with employees from various charities who tell me the employees steal the good things that are donated and the bosses are mainly figureheads that rape the remainder of the money with these salaries and bonuses. half of America is begging for free crap while the rest work to support the lazy. my family was poor as a child and we didn’t beg for everything. we ate peanut butter sandwiches a lot and wore hand me down clothes. stop treating lazy people like the all need everything free.

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