A Greater Cause

Forget six-figure salaries and company perks. Nonprofit organizations offer something better: that feel-good feeling.

May, 2002

Cheryl Kauhane has an MBA in finance and marketing, owns a consulting business and is fully aware that with her skill set and experience, she could command a six-figure salary. But as she expounds the sense of personal satisfaction she gets from empowering women and girls to become leaders in their communities, you begin to understand why Kauhane, president and chief executive officer of the YWCA of Oahu, is content earning $72,000 per year.

“I’m very aware of the salary compromise that I made,” Kauhane says. “But I am the face of the YWCA, and I am someone who really takes to heart what this organization is about and has a lot of passion about it. That’s critical, and that’s what enables you to balance out that money issue.” She’s not alone when it comes to leveraging the “money issue.”

Last year, CompassPoint Nonprofit Services, a San Francisco-based management-consulting firm, together with the Hawaii Community Foundation, conducted a study of nonprofit executive directors in five regions throughout the United States. The survey found that more than 98 percent of Hawaii’s nonprofit executive directors share Kauhane’s sentiments – organizational mission and personal satisfaction, not salary, rank highest as reasons for their present career choices.

The study also found that roughly one-third of all executive directors nationwide, including Hawaii, do not anticipate staying in their current positions for more than two years. Forty-two percent of Hawaii’s executive directors plan to hold those positions for at least three to five years.

The survey also found that the average salary of Hawaii’s executive directors is $49,691, a 13 percent difference from the national average of $57,332. And 9 percent of Hawaii’s executive directors are volunteers – working strictly for the cause of the organization. Lisa Schattenburg-Raymond, executive director of the Maui Nui Botanical Gardens and avid plant aficionado, spent two years volunteering before being allotted a $35,000 per year salary. “I don’t think people can really appreciate that level of dedication,” she says. “It’s a remarkable thing to work as hard as an executive director needs to and not get any financial compensation, even a meager one.”

The study doesn’t compare nonprofit executive directors’ salaries with those of their for-profit counterparts. But Alan H. Shinn, who has more than 12 years of experience as an executive director of nonprofit organizations, says neither the pay scales nor the levels of clout are comparable between the two sectors. Shinn, who is currently in charge of the Coalition for a Drug-Free Hawaii, says executive directors of nonprofits are given less credit for doing more work.

The YWCA’s Kauhane agrees: “Nonprofits are actually faced with many more variables than in a for-profit environment. In the private sector, you’re dealing with financial measures of performance. Nonprofits are measured on that, too, but also we’re measured on our ability to perform to our mission. And that’s really difficult. How do I actually prove that, ‘Yes, we were able to increase her self-esteem and gave her self-confidence and now she’s become the dynamic woman leader?’”

It’s challenging, she admits. “But I’m not complaining,” she says, “because I’ve worked with a number of different women who don’t have the same kind of drive and passion for what they do. So I know there’s a value to that, that you couldn’t put a dollar sign on.”

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Jacy L. Youn