The executive director usually is the top executive at a nonprofit, and directors report directly to the executive director. The executive director at a nonprofit is like a chief executive officer at a for-profit company, and the director is like a vice president. The primary goal of nonprofit executives is to ensure that the organization fulfills its mission, reaches its goals and is able to balance its operating budget with fundraising revenue.
Achieving the mission of the nonprofit more efficiently and less expensively is the main goal of its executives. The executive director oversees this mission, and the directors manage their pieces of the organization, such as policy, development (or fundraising), public relations or community outreach. Nonprofit executives that come into an organization during a time of crisis or restructuring often are charged with changing the mission and/or the way the mission is accomplished.
Marketing and Public Relations
One of the most important responsibilities of an nonprofit executive is to create and implement the organization's public relations effort. For nonprofits, better PR often means higher donations. Nonprofits with a large staff often have a dedicated employee who runs marketing and public relations, under the direction of the executives.
Nonprofits get income from a variety of sources, but they usually do not sell products for profit, as for-profit corporations do. So fundraising--including winning grants and gaining financial support from large and small donors in the community--is critical. How directly involved executives are in fundraising depends partly on the size of the organization, but it is an important issue for all executives, who must balance the operating budget with the money raised through grants and donations.
Education and Background
Most of the people leading nonprofits have at least a bachelor's degree, and many have an MBA (Master's in Business Administration), an MPA (Master's in Public Administration) or a law degree. Executives are expected to be committed to the values of the nonprofit.
Salary of a nonprofit executive can vary significantly, depending on a myriad of factors: size of nonprofit, amount of operating budget and how long the executive has been on the job. Leaders of very old and prestigious organizations like the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York or the United Way can earn over $1 million annually, as they did in 2008, according to the September 2009 study of nonprofit leadership pay released by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Other nonprofit leaders make just over $100,000, as some did in 2008 according to the same study, so the salary differences are extreme.
2016 Salary Information for Top Executives
Top executives earned a median annual salary of $109,140 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, top executives earned a 25th percentile salary of $70,800, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $165,620, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 2,572,000 people were employed in the U.S. as top executives.