CNN Is Shocked: Some Big Nonprofit CEOs Make over $1 Million

Print Share on LinkedIn More


October 11, 2013; CNN Money


Top executives of some of the largest and most prestigious non-profits in the U.S. received salaries exceeding $1 million in 2011, according to a study reported by CNN Money (a service of CNN, Fortune, and Money).

CNN reported that Charity Navigator, in an analysis it did of 3,929 charities, found that 11 nonprofits paid their CEOs more than $1 million annually, and that CEOs at 78 other charities were paid between $500,000 and $1 million.

But is this a cheap shot that focuses on the outliers? The CNN story says nothing about the hundreds of thousands of nonprofit executive directors and CEOs at smaller organizations who are underpaid, most of them making less than six figures and getting lousy benefits aside from the good karma they deserve.

The story singles out the CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of America, who earned the highest pay in the group of $1.85 million; the Metropolitan Museum of Art CEO, who earned nearly $1.5 million; the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children CEO, earning nearly $1.2 million; and the CEO of National Jewish Health, at over $1 million.

“Many donors assume that charity leaders work for free or minimal pay and are shocked to see that they earn six figure salaries,” CNN quoted the study as saying. “But well-meaning donors sometimes fail to consider that these CEOs are typically running multi-million dollar operations that endeavor to help change the world.”

Guess again, CNN—many nonprofit executive directors, while not working for free, do work for what many in the private for-profit and even government sectors would consider “minimal.” This is especially true for smaller, local charities that endeavor to change their communities, which comprise the bulk of the nonprofit sector.

CNN concedes that Charity Navigator noted that leading a large national organization “requires an individual that possess both an understanding of the issues that are unique to the charity’s mission as well as extensive management and fundraising expertise.” The budgets of most of the organizations it singled out exceeded $100 million a year.—Larry Kaplan

  • beila

    Nonprofits are (at least theoretically) entitled to pay their people at levels commensurate with the duties. .. including como that would be paid in the for-profit sector. I agree that comp on the millions is wrong … but i think that it is also a ridiculous comp level for any employee — including ceos of big public companies.
    The skewed approach to executive comp is the real problem.

  • Merse

    Nonprofits exist to provide a public service.

    Money in a nonprofit of any size is derived from donations given for the purpose of addressing a particular societal need, whether helping boys and girls, or exploited children. A nonprofit exists solely for its charitable purpose, and while its employees deserve an honest wage, these particular nonprofits are exploiting the public and worse, the supposed recipients of its charitable care.

    The excessive compensation paid to these and other CEO and officers in a nonprofit is a social crime – they are profiting from public generosity, and at the expense of the most needy. Most of them work to conceal their excessive compensation, effectively defrauding the generous public donor.

    First and foremost, stop funding these organizations that consider insiders more important that their charitable purpose. For more on excessive compensation, see

    Take action – direct your donations to worthy organizations. Check them out on Charity Navigator.

  • Hmmm…

    Larry, I think you completely missed the point of that article, which wasn’t to call out those organizations whose CEOs are making a nice bit of pocket change. It was in support of Charity Navigator’s larger campaign to shift people’s thinking when choosing a nonprofit to support– that one shouldn’t merely base a charity’s level of commitment to its mission by how much its CEO [and staff] makes, but about the overall scope of the organization and the results that it produces. People who work for nonprofits have the same needs that people working in the private sector do and we shouldn’t be expected to survice on a next-to-nothing salary, eventhough most of us do. I have a college degree, ten years experience and have to pay rent just like everyone else does. Why should I be expected to accept pay well below the level that my qualifications should receive just because I work for an organization who receives its funds via donations? I applaud Charity Navigator for what they are trying to do!

  • rick johnston

    Congress had a bill in the House with bipartisan support that would limit the administrative costs of nonprofits.
    The nonprofits killed the bill. I believe the limit was 15% of what is raised each year. Conversely, the ACA
    limits insurance companies to 20% for administratve costs which includes paying claims.The 80% of premiums to is go
    to medical providers. It would seem requiring 85% of the funds charities collect must go to the beneficiaries would be
    a good idea.
    Now we all know the NFL is a nonprofit organization despite billions of dollars going to it and its beneficiaries
    are shortchanged. Congress gave the NFL this exclusive years ago.It’s time to remove the nonprofit status
    of the NFL.It’s time to limit administrative costs of charities. Does Congress have the Backbone?

  • Parthasarathy

    The tag ‘non-profit” applies only to the organizations not to the CEOs heading them a