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The Strengths and Weaknesses of Nonprofit Employment

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Rena Coughlin Head Shot_revisedSpecial to the Philanthropy Journal

By Rena Coughlin

It’s no secret that nonprofit organizations face stiff competition for talented, capable employees. Issues of salary, diversity, opportunity and professional development loom large in the effort to attract and keep top-notch people. A recent survey of five Florida counties (Duval, Baker, Clay, Nassau and St. Johns) commissioned by the Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida revealed that, while the average nonprofit worker can expect salaries and benefits competitive with the for-profit sector, racial diversity and wage inequities for leadership positions remain challenges for the sector.

nonprofit_logo_pms WtagOur local sector includes more than 1,000 organizations with approximately 58,000 employees and a collective payroll of $2.7 billion. The nonprofit community generates a $6.8-billion economic impact in Northeast Florida. The Compensation and Benefits Report gave us information on over 100 jobs, making it an important management tool and valuable to nonprofit boards and leaders.

While having accurate local information helps nonprofits as a whole better understand the impact they have as employers with significant economic muscle, there are broader conclusions the data points to, and the actions they suggest we should take.

Compensation and Benefits

The survey revealed that the median wages of the nonprofit workforce are quite competitive with those of the general public:

  • Northeast Florida nonprofit sector median wage: $35,000
  • Jacksonville MSA median wage: $34,050 (source: Florida Department of Economic Opportunity)

The great majority of nonprofits also offer healthcare and retirement benefits:

  • 86% offer some type of medical insurance to full-time employees
  • 30% offer medical insurance to part-time employees working a certain number of hours per week
  • 69% offer retirement packages for full-time employees, with tax-sheltered annuities such as 401(k) and 403(b) plans being the most popular

Diversity and Equality

While women are well represented, even dominant, in both the workforce and the leadership of nonprofits surveyed, male CEOs earn more than their female counterparts, with the gender gap in salaries increasing as the organization’s size increases. One bright sign is that even though a gender wage gap exists among nonprofits surveyed, it is smaller than in the private sector (about 13%, compared to nearly 20% in the for-profit sector).

  • 78% of full-time nonprofit employees are women
  • 69% of nonprofit CEOs are female
  • 80% of chief development officers
  • 64% of chief financial officers are women

When it comes to race, it is a different story, with 90 percent of CEO positions being held by Caucasians and just seven percent by African-Americans, hardly reflective of our community demographics. The survey found similar disparities for the positions of chief operating officer, chief financial officer and chief development officer.

Best Practices and Professional Development

While opportunities for professional development among surveyed nonprofits are strong, the practice of succession planning is lacking in many organizations.

  • 60% of CEOs do not have a succession plan
  • 26% expect a transition in the next three years (12% of those do not have a succession plan)
  • Approximately 70% of organizations provide employees with professional development opportunities
  • 97% conduct bi-annual or annual employee reviews

From Data to Decisions

Nonprofit Employment Article Image 1_revisedBy expanding our conversations with nonprofit board members, funders and investors, the Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida hopes to build an action plan to address challenges identified through the research. Among the specific goals are:

  • Creating competitive workplaces: We are specifically interested in how to increase benefits to employees. These include paid time off to volunteer, paid maternity/paternity leave, reimbursed educational expenses, and others. We have started by identifying existing policies from organizations and compiling the best ones as a resource for boards and staff.
  • Increasing racial diversity and closing the gender wage gap: Because hiring and setting the compensation of CEOs is a responsibility of nonprofit boards, we will be educating board members on both issues. We hope to expand resources available to them to use when making hiring decisions. We can also support current and potential CEOs through training, mentoring and coaching.

The Compensation and Benefits Report gives nonprofit boards and management local compensation data that is current, accurate, and detailed, as well as an action plan to improve practices. Nonprofits must compete for the best and the brightest if nonprofits are to tackle the world’s most intractable issues, like reducing poverty or providing affordable, safe housing, while leading under some of the most resource-constrained environments.


Rena Coughlin is the CEO of the Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida, which focuses on strengthening the nonprofit sector. A proponent of innovation, Rena has championed the Nonprofit Center online fundraising WeGive.org and its community platform, TheNonprofitLink.org. With the Board of Directors, she leads strategy, resources allocation, and staff development to sustain and carry out the mission of the Nonprofit Center.

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