The Problem With Nonprofit Arts Admin Pay

There’s an excellent article in the 6/12/2019 edition of by Ben Paynter that examines two recent studies on nonprofit staff compensation. Spoiler alert: both studies uncovered ample evidence that compensation is a strong pain point among most employees.

Compensation is a regular topic here at Adaptistration and back in 2016, we conducted a survey of orchestra and opera staffers and managers to help determine the how and why behind orchestra managers changing jobs.

How And Why Orchestra Managers Change Jobs Part 1

How And Why Orchestra Managers Change Jobs Part 2

Perhaps unsurprisingly, dissatisfaction with compensation was a common reason behind pursuing a new gig.

But one metric that has consistently eluded the field is the rate of change between staff and executive pay levels. Unlike executive compensation, most staffers and middle managers earn far below required reporting levels by the IRS and I have yet to see the League of American Orchestras release this data.

It’s not exactly a surprise and based on my direct knowledge, it would be shocking if the results indicated anything other than a steadily increasingly wage gap between the executive, middle manager, and staff employment tiers.

If that weren’t enough, look at the number of likes and replies generated by two recent tweets from the always sharp @ArtsAdminSay Twitter account, both of which focused on compensation topics.

This field loves to talk about sustainable business models, but how much worse does this situation need to become before it can get better?

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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