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Recruiting and Retaining Staff Through Better Benchmarking Data

by Brittany Kienker, Ph.D.

Field Focus LogoFoundations across the country are looking for ways to use data to make sound decisions, show impact, and be better stewards of their own resources. Likewise, nonprofits are using data to justify their operational and programmatic costs, even as they become increasingly lean and efficient to ensure the maximum amount of resources are directed toward mission-oriented activity.

I manage Ask CMF, a technical assistance service of the Council of Michigan Foundations. On any given day, I answer fascinating questions from foundations across the state and curate a collection of relevant data and resources for our members. One of the questions I receive most frequently focuses on how to determine appropriate salary and compensation for staff. Board members and staff typically ask this question either as part of the process of recruiting new staff or ensuring they retain existing staff.

In addressing the question of appropriate salary and compensation for organizations across Michigan, I have come to appreciate the incredible diversity of institutions and their unique staffing challenges. Some organizations are large and complex, requiring them to look to other foundations nationally to find comparable staff and competitive job applicants. In other situations, small foundations and those in more rural areas are generally faced with a much different job applicant pool and few comparable organizations within their local area. Fortunately, using relevant data to benchmark compensation packages can help any organization do a better job of recruiting and retaining staff.

Depending on the type of organization you represent, there are a variety of resources that may be useful. Salary survey data for philanthropic organizations is surprisingly accessible, especially for those with memberships to relevant associations that produce such reports. These groups regularly partner with organizations willing to share their salary data, which oftentimes comes with the “perk” of a free copy of the complete report. Through further research and discussions with colleagues in the field, you may find additional compensation reports that apply to your specific region or area of the sector.

Using relevant data to benchmark compensation packages can help any organization do a better job of recruiting and retaining staff.

The Council on Foundations’ “Grantmaking Salary and Benefits Report”
The Council on Foundations produces an annual report that compiles salary and benefits data from foundations across the United States. Historically, this report has been released at the early part of the year. However, they hope to release their 2018 report this fall, making it accessible in advance of end-of-year budget discussions. The Council on Foundations’ report stands apart in the field for its focus on community foundations, corporate grantmakers, private foundations, operating foundations, and public foundations while representing an extensive list of job positions. It also includes broad regional data that may be useful, as salaries vary widely across the country. Foundations that participate in the survey receive a free copy of the report, in addition to access to benchmarking tools. The full report, as well as the salary tables, are available to members and non-members through COF’s website.

The Michigan Nonprofit Association’s “Compensation and Benefit Report”
The Michigan Nonprofit Association, with the assistance of the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy, releases an annual “Compensation and Benefit Report” that represents nonprofits and foundations across Michigan. This report includes a wide variety of nonprofit-specific job positions, with benchmarking variables that include organizational budget, type, and region within the state. Salaries vary widely from one area of the state to another, which makes this report particularly useful for smaller organizations and those located in counties with a smaller philanthropic presence. The full report is available to members and non-members of MNA.

Exponent Philanthropy’s “Foundation Operations and Management Report”
Exponent Philanthropy, previously known as the Association of Small Foundations, produces an annual “Foundation Operations and Management Report,” which includes a robust section on salary and benefits from its survey of member organizations. With a focus on foundations with few or no staff (0–8 staff members), this resource is particularly useful for family and private foundations, as well as some smaller community foundations. This report also divides its data across organizational asset size, foundation type, and national region, in addition to experience, gender, and the number of grants awarded by the foundation. Exponent Philanthropy limits its data set to CEO, professional/grantmaking staff, and administrative/support staff due to the relatively lean staffing of its member organizations. Members and non-members of Exponent Philanthropy can access the report.

GuideStar’s “Nonprofit Compensation Report”
GuideStar generates an annual report that represents much of the nonprofit sector nationally, including both salary and benefits information. Rather than depending upon a survey-based data set, GuideStar uses Form 990 and 990-EZ data to compile this report, limiting the data to organizations with annual income of at least $200,000. The report represents a very diverse set of nonprofits from across the National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities (NTEE) code system, as well as geographic and other variables that may be useful among 14 different job categories. While this report may not be as useful for grantmaking foundations or smaller nonprofits, sizable nonprofit organizations may find this extensive report to be helpful for benchmarking with comparable institutions nationally. The report can be obtained directly from GuideStar.

Whether your philanthropic organization is large or small, metropolitan or rural, data sets are available to help you determine comparable salary and benefits for your employees. With benchmarking tools at your fingertips, you will be in a better position to recruit and retain quality staff, ensuring that your financial resources are put to good use in achieving your philanthropic goals.


Photo: Brittany Kienker

Brittany Kienker, Ph.D. is a Knowledge Insights Specialist at the Council of Michigan Foundations, where she serves as the lead researcher for Ask CMF. She also serves as Principal and Owner at Kienker Consulting in southeastern Michigan, as well as an adjunct professor in Central Michigan University’s Master of Science in Administration – Philanthropy and Fundraising program. Dr. Kienker received her Ph.D. in Philanthropic Studies from the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. She also earned her M.A. in Philanthropic Studies (Indiana University), an M.A. in Public History (Indiana University), and a B.A. in Public History (Western Michigan University).


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