How Much Should I Pay My Nonprofit’s Program Manager?


A career in nonprofit work can be an exciting, impactful, and educational experience. However, many individuals who might otherwise reach for this opportunity are hesitant, wondering "How do nonprofits pay employees?" Even founders will ask, "Can I pay myself in a nonprofit organization?"

It is a common misconception that nonprofits do not pay their employees a salary. Nonprofits are, in fact, the third largest employer in the U.S., offering careers that promise fast skill development, among other things. In this article, we will discuss how nonprofit employees get paid, explore what a program manager does in a nonprofit, and show you how to find nonprofit salary information in your area. 

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How Do Nonprofits Pay Their Employees?

Most nonprofits — even smaller ones — hire staff to support their mission. The salaries these employees receive are subject to the same wage regulations as those for traditional business positions. Nonprofits must at least pay minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 per hour at the federal level. If the state minimum is higher, then they must pay that. 

However, for a nonprofit interviewer or recruiter to hire the best and brightest as well as avoid employee turnover, they should offer their recruits competitive salaries. The only caveat is that they must stay within the bounds of what the IRS considers "reasonable compensation" for each job title. This means the salaries should not fall too far above or below those paid to employees working similar positions at other nonprofits.

salary-for-program-manager-nonprofit-how-do-nonprofits-pay-employeesEva knows paying nonprofit employees appropriately is essential!

In a perfect world, nonprofits would only have to focus on providing for their beneficiaries. Unfortunately, the reality is that they have to ensure they raise enough funds to keep their engine running. In this way, nonprofits operate like for-profit businesses because without income, there is no reserve from which to pull funds that go toward providing products, services, and more to their target audience. 

Nonprofit organizations and for-profit businesses are not the same, though. One major difference between the two is that the former can garner income through donations and grants, while the latter cannot. In fact, many nonprofits use grants to pay their employees. 


What Does a Program Manager Do?

A program manager manages one or several of a nonprofit’s departments to ensure what they are doing is in line with its purpose and mission. They often direct program coordinators and volunteer coordinators who, in turn, manage volunteers and staff members for fundraising projects and beyond. Program managers typically report to a director or the CEO, and their responsibilities tend to include:

  • Ensuring programs stay on track 

  • Ensuring activities align with the nonprofit’s goals

  • Delegating projects to different departments


Finding the Salary for a Nonprofit Program Manager

There is no one salary for a nonprofit program manager, as it depends on numerous situations. The resources in the next two sections will help you get a general idea, though.

Factors Affecting Salary

The annual salary for a nonprofit program manager depends on several factors; the size of the organization is one. If a nonprofit brings in a lot of funds, it can better support higher salaries. Not to mention the fact that larger organizations often have an HR department and board that understand the benefits of offering competitive compensation. 

Next, salaries can be affected by the location of the nonprofit. For example, states like Washington are more costly to live in than Mississippi. Nonprofits that reside in a large city, such as Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., New York City, or Chicago, have to offer cost-of-living adjustments so that their staff can afford to live in these expensive areas. However, time may make this factor less important if post-pandemic work-from-home trends continue.

Finally, a candidate’s work experience can affect how much they get paid as a program manager. If they possess a unique set of skills, they will often make more. It also tends to help to have a degree in nonprofit management. 

Finding Salary Data

To find the pay scales of nonprofit employees, start with your state’s nonprofit association. These associations often conduct annual surveys and use the data they gather to create a comprehensive guide to nonprofit salaries in your locality. You can find your state nonprofit association by visiting the National Council of Nonprofits

In addition, you can use a search engine to find results. Try Googling "nonprofit program manager salary" alongside your state, and see what comes up. Do not forget to look at job sites, such as LinkedIn and Indeed, as some nonprofits include salary ranges in the content of their open job postings. 

Finally, you can go the old-fashioned route: call nonprofits in your area, and ask if they are willing to tell you what they pay their program director. Some will be happy to share that information. 

salary-for-program-manager-nonprofit-finding-the-salarySam is researching program manager salary data right now!

Regardless of the method you use to find salary information, be sure to compare it to the national average. Usually, a nonprofit program manager in the United States makes between $39,000 and $59,000 per year

Pro Tip: While the role of a nonprofit program manager does not require a four-year degree, having one may increase a candidate’s chance of securing the job. Be aware that the more education an individual has, especially if it is in nonprofit management, the more leverage they have when negotiating a higher salary with you.


Final Thoughts

Working in the nonprofit sector gives your employees a way to use their skills to create meaningful change. While they may find a higher salary at a traditional company, other benefits can level the playing field. Working in an environment they are passionate about can offer greater job satisfaction. Plus, nonprofit work, by its very nature, inspires fulfilling interactions with one’s community and the world at large. These reasons alone should make hiring the perfect program manager easier for your organization. Ensuring you pay them fairly will only make your nonprofit a more valuable — and more desirable — employer!

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💡What does a program manager at a nonprofit do?

A nonprofit program manager works under the CEO or a director to oversee one or more programs. They handle the bigger picture stuff, such as staffing, budget, and progress. In turn, they are often in charge of the program coordinator who oversees the volunteers and handles the minutia of each activity. Find out more. 

🔑 Are program managers in high demand?

Yes, program management positions for nonprofits are growing in demand. In fact, nonprofit jobs have outpaced for-profit jobs by almost 400% in recent years. Find out more. 

📝 Where can I find program managers for my nonprofit?

The best way to find talent for your organization is to create a clear and concise job description and post it on hiring sites, such as LinkedIn, Indeed, or the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE). The latter is a resource specifically for nonprofits. It is also important to remember that to get the best and brightest for your team, you need to offer a competitive salary and solid benefits. Find out more.  

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