Not Happy at Nonprofits

January, 2012

Maybe Hawaii’s not so different after all. That’s the almost inescapable conclusion from looking at the numbers in “Daring to Lead 2011: A National Study of Nonprofit Executive Leadership.” This report, undertaken by the San Francisco-based consulting firm CompassPoint, surveyed more than 3,000 executive directors at nonprofits nationwide. It asked these executives about things like turnover rates, job satisfaction, professional development and their relationships with their boards of directors. The data are grim.

Among executive directors:

• Fewer than half were happy in their jobs;

• More than a third expected to leave their positions within two years;

• Nearly half had not had a performance evaluation in the past year; and

• Most executives feel they don’t spend enough time marketing, fundraising or networking.

Among nonprofits:

• 58 percent report moderate to significant impact from the recession;

• Nearly half have fewer than 90 days cash reserves; and

• Most nonprofits with fewer than 25 staff members have only one senior manager responsible for core organization functions.

In other words, the country’s nonprofit executives are overworked, underpaid and ill-prepared for the challenges of running a nonprofit. “But that’s a national report,” you’re thinking. “Surely Hawaii is different.”

No such luck. This November, the Hawaii Community Foundation invited two of the report’s authors, Marla Cornelius and Jeanne Belle, to present their findings at the Conference of Nonprofit Communities of Hawaii in November. As an exclusive to Hawaii Business magazine, they isolated the data from the 148 Hawaii executives who responded to the survey. The results are astonishing. Whether you’re a an optimist who believes the “aloha spirit” adds extra luster to Hawaii’s nonprofit community, or a pessimist who thinks we’re a backwater, with our nonprofit sector plagued with low pay, cronyism and incompetence, the data in this report will disappoint you. The national data are very similar to the Hawaii data. “We just haven’t found significant differences anywhere in the country,” Cornelius says. As HCF president Kelvin Taketa adds, “The most interesting thing is how universal the findings were.”

Here are highlights from the Hawaii survey:

Happy or Unhappy on the job?

The executive directors of the smallest nonprofits  report the least job satisfaction, while the leaders at the biggest nonprofits are the happiest in their roles.


Satisfied with your job?

Although new executive directors at Hawaii nonprofits seem to experience a brief “honeymoon,” within a year their satisfaction with their jobs and their boards of directors plummet. But, if they last for a long time in their job, their satisfaction rebounds.


How did your annual performance evaluation go?

Nearly half of Hawaii’s nonprofit executives said they received no annual performance evaluation, even though one of the most important roles of the board is to hire and supervise the ED.


Months of operating reserves for Hawaii nonprofits

Most organizations report having six months or less of operating reserves, no matter what their funding source.


Time spent with the board

Judging by the survey results, EDs are most satisfied with their boards of directors if they spend five to 10 hours a month with the boards. Of those EDs who spent less than five hours a month with their board, 56 percent said they’re “not at all satisfied.”


What energizes you on the job?

Most EDs say they prefer working with partners, managing programs and advocating for their organization’s mission. After all, that’s why they came to nonprofit work. They’re less excited about actually running the organization day to day.


Executive Directors’ Annual Compensation

Nearly three-fourths of Hawaii EDs make less than $100,000 a year, similar to national numbers even though Hawaii’s cost of living far exceeds the national average.


Who are our NonProfit Leaders?


Highest Education Level Completed


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Dennis Hollier