The 2021 Charitable Advisors Central Indiana Nonprofit Salary Report is now available to the public online

by Shari Finnell, editor/writer, Not-for-profit News

Although annual pay raises are often considered essential in keeping valued employees, about a third of Central Indiana nonprofits reported that they would not be offering pay raises in 2021 — in the midst of one of the most competitive job markets in recent history.

Those statistics were among the findings of the Charitable Advisors 2021 Central Indiana Nonprofit Salary Report, issued after a tumultuous period marked by the COVID-19 outbreak, government stay-at-home orders, social protests and an economic crisis.

With 286 Central Indiana organizations represented in the anonymous survey — a record response, HR executives, CEOs and other leaders provided insight into the salary levels of 26 positions of nonprofit institutions varying widely in size and in annual budgets — from less than $250,000 to more than $10 million.

When asked whether they expected to increase wages for employees at their organizations, 285 of the respondents revealed a mix of answers in the 2021 survey. They are as follows:

  • 2 percent expected a decrease in wages
  • 32 percent expected no increase in wages
  • 8 percent expected a wage increase of 1-1.9 percent
  • 18 percent expected a wage increase of 2-2.9 percent
  • 25 percent expected a wage increase of 3-3.9 percent
  • 2 percent expected a wage increase of 4-4.9 percent
  • 4 percent expected a wage increase of 5 percent or more
  • 9 percent had not yet decided or did not know if they would offer a wage increase

Based on the previous Charitable Advisors Central Indiana Nonprofit Salary Report, released in 2019 before the pandemic, the number of nonprofits planning to offer some type of wage increase had declined — from 63 percent t0 57 percent. However, a larger number of nonprofits in the 2019 survey had not yet decided on pay increases — 24 percent compared to 9 percent in the 2021 survey.

Salary ranges across job levels

As part of the 2021 survey, respondents gave detailed wage information for 26 position categories, from executive level positions to administrative and facility/maintenance support positions, for organizations of varying sizes, budget levels and nonprofit categories (arts, culture and humanities; community development; health; foundation, etc.)

For a full list of salary comparisons, read the 2021 report here.

The following is a sampling of some of the salary comparisons for organizations with operating budgets of $250,000 to $999,000 (the largest group represented at 35 percent):

Executive Director/President/CEO
Average – $79,348
Minimum – $30,000
Maximum – $224,430

Vice President of Programs
Average – $60,475
Minimum – $30,000
Maximum – $140,000

Vice President of Programs
Average – $60,475
Minimum – $30,000
Maximum – $140,000

Case Manager
Average – $42,641
Minimum – $31,200
Maximum – $65,000

Volunteer Coordinator
Average – $38,737
Minimum – $32,136
Maximum – $52,744

Office Manager
Average – $43,970
Minimum – $33,000
Maximum – $74,000

Facility/Maintenance Manager
Average – $51,521
Minimum – $32,600
Maximum – $75,0005

HR executive perspectives on moving forward in 2021

According to several HR executives for the organizations that participated in the annual salary survey, 2020 triggered a significant shift in the evolution of hiring, retention and employee engagement practices in the nonprofit industry.

During conversations with prospective employees, Ponda Sullivan, director of human resources for Tangram, dedicates time to understanding the reasons behind why they left their previous jobs. She also thoroughly reviews exit interviews from current employees.

“When I’m interviewing individuals, I try to capture some of the things that led them to look for another job,” said Sullivan, who previously worked at a for-profit healthcare organization for 18 years. “Some of the concerns expressed were related to child care, career development, flexible schedules and not feeling appreciated.”

Sullivan said nonprofit organizations that can’t compete must focus on those types of areas — the intrinsic appeal of working in the nonprofit industry — to be competitive. 

“People are looking for a company that does the right thing,” Sullivan said. “They want to be treated a certain way and they’re OK with a pay reduction as long as the company provides those other work-life balance benefits. You definitely have to be creative and innovative, and ask, ‘What are those intrinsic awards we can offer?’.”

Discovering new opportunities in the midst of challenges

While the pandemic prompted a series of unexpected “pivots” in the way the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis has traditionally operated, the outcome was a team that emerged better because of the experience, according to Debbie Aull, director of human resources for the organization.

“It definitely changed the world of human resources — in a good way,” Aull said. “We had to rethink everything. We’re much more focused, more transparent, and more purposeful about inclusion with all of our policies and practices.”

In addition to assessing its diversity equity and inclusion (DEI) practices by hiring a consultant, appointing a DEI task force and undergoing an audit to increase transparency, the Children’s Museum expanded into uncharted territory by bringing many programs online.

“One thing that was a challenge — and an opportunity — was moving the majority of our recruiting, hiring, onboarding, training and educational programs to virtual platforms,” Aull said. “At one time, we would have said, ‘There’s no way we can do that,’ but we did. And it’s great for the museum and the community.”

Aull also said that the museum is mindful of the need to adapt to remain relevant — and HR is core to that strategy.

“HR has proven to be the key to the success of the organization. Our people really are the most precious resource,” she said. “We have to provide them with a safe environment which is going to mean different things to different people. We all need to be open-minded in our thinking.”

For example, while HR professionals at organizations of all sizes will likely consider flexible, hybrid and remote options moving forward, it’s important to be mindful of employees who aren’t able to take advantage of those benefits, Aull said. 

“We have to consider it but we also must be open to ensuring there is equity and collaboration for hybrid and remote options,” she said. “We should be mindful of how it would impact employees who don’t have that option. We definitely don’t want an ‘us vs. them’ situation, especially for the staff members who are going in and working, facing visitors harping about having to wear masks, or complaining when they close the restrooms to clean and sanitize them. They’re on the receiving end of all that while I’m sitting in my second bedroom on a computer.”

To ensure that the front line employees felt supported through a challenging period, employees from other departments helped with some of the in-person responsibilities of operating the museum, such as cleaning laundry used in the facility, Aull said.

Rethinking HR strategies

Shelby Slowik, director of human resources at Conner Prairie, said that the living museum has had the advantage of operating many of its programs outdoors, which resulted in fewer disruptions in the team’s ability to continue welcoming visitors. The museum shut down for only two months in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, Slowik noted.

Also, as a larger organization, Conner Prairie is able to compete with many for-profit organizations on the wages it offers salaried employees, Slowik said. “It’s a rarity that we can’t compete at the professional and leadership levels,” she said. 

However, like many other businesses and nonprofits, hiring part-time and entry-level employees — primarily seasonal workers at Conner Prairie, has been challenging, Slowik said. 

“We rely a lot on seasonal employees and that’s where we see a bit more of the pay competition,” she said. 

After more than a year of adhering to new COVID-19 guidelines, streamlining programs, rolling out new policies, and ensuring that employees feel supported through the challenges, many HR departments have been pushed to evolve — perhaps much quicker than they would have without the pandemic, Slowik said. 

“I don’t think I have ever experienced anything like this in my 30 years in HR,” she said. “When you look at it from an HR perspective … the new policies and procedures we had to implement, the expenditures to support filtration, handwashing stations, hand sanitizers, dealing with fear factor of staff, the mental stress, lockdown, safety issues, immunizations, exposure … all that falls under the HR umbrella.”

In the past, Slowik noted, HR departments were comparable to policy enforcers. “Especially for those who have been in HR for some time, we tend to have a black and white viewpoint on how things should be handled when it comes to following policies and procedures, and guidelines on what you need to do to be successful,” she said.

That mindset has evolved significantly, she said.

“Maybe in the last 5 to 10 years, we’re no longer the person there to derail creative ideas. We have switched to being more like a business partner that’s willing to embrace creative ideas, whether it’s telecommuting and attractive benefits that may not have been previously considered. We’re much more approachable in collaborating.”

Just 10 years ago, Slowik said, she would never have considered telecommuting as an option for employees. The pandemic effectively changed her perception.

In the near future, Slowik predicted, HR managers will continue to struggle to find clarity on how much they should pay entry-level employees. “We’re all experiencing staffing challenges. Many hourly positions, which pay anywhere from $12 to $16 an hour, have remained vacant.

“This has caused us to review our entry rates of pay,” she said. “What do we need to do to be competitive if everyone else is raising their rates?”

Conner Prairie has hired a firm to evaluate their wage structure to ensure they’re competitive. “The pandemic pushed me to look at that a year earlier than I probably would have.”

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