Research & Reports

Pandemic Ultimately Leads to Flat Year-End Fundraising Salaries After First Quarter Increases

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(Arlington, Va.) Salaries for fundraising professionals in the United States were on the rise before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and then fell by the end of 2020, resulting in overall flat growth, according to the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ (AFP) 2021 Compensation and Benefits Report.

Read the Canada Findings >>

The report, based on the responses of 3,261 fundraising professionals in the United States, is AFP’s annual survey that examines fundraising salaries, benefits, demographics of fundraisers, and workplace issues in 2020. The 2021 report looks at specific topics related to the impact of the pandemic, including layoffs and furloughs.

Respondents were asked about their salaries after the first quarter of 2020 and again at the end of the year. At the end of March 2020, the pre-COVID-19 average salary of survey participants in the U.S. had increased by 4% to $88,421, compared to $85,060 at the end of 2019.

However, for the rest of 2020, salaries dropped 3% from the March figure, resulting in an average year-end salary of $85,567, very nearly the same as 2019.

The median or mid-point salary for fundraisers remained the same for 2019, March 2020 and the end of 2020: $75,000.

The aggregate results conceal vast differences in the experiences of individual fundraisers. For example, 18.5% of respondents reported a drop in compensation, with an average decrease of $20,769. In contrast, 14.5% of respondents indicated an increase in pay averaging $7,885.

The pandemic was a factor in decreasing pay for some survey respondents across Canada and the U.S.:

  • Three percent were laid off and found a new job;

  • Five percent were given days off without pay;

  • Ten percent accepted lower pay at the same employer or elsewhere to remain employed.

Layoffs or furloughs for at least some fundraising personnel (not always the individual taking the survey) occurred at about 20% of the organizations represented in the survey.

In addition to compensation changes, 15% of employers shifted more of the cost of health insurance to employees in 2020.

“Our AFP Fundraising Effectiveness Project research has demonstrated the impact of the pandemic on giving varied widely depending on the type of the organization, and this disparity in impact is also on display in our 2021 Compensation and Benefits Report,” said Mike Geiger, MBA, CPA, president and CEO of AFP. “That the profession experienced a global pandemic, but salaries, in general, remained flat—and some fundraisers actually saw significant increases in pay—is surprising. But dig a little deeper and we see a wide variety of salary changes, and most of us know colleagues who lost their jobs or had to take pay cuts. Our report this year shows a profession that adapted and remain committed to their work, despite the myriad challenges.”

Salary by Gender and Race

Women’s compensation continued to lag behind men’s salaries in 2020: an average of $85,967 for women compared with men’s pay of $103,175—for a gap of $17,208, or 20%. Previous AFP research has found that 10% of the gap between men’s and women’s pay is attributed to gender. Other factors that were also tied to pay gaps were years of experience in the field and the size of the institution in which the fundraiser worked.

Just over 1% selected a gender other than male or female. Within that small group, salaries averaged $110,217, higher than the U.S. men’s average by 7% and higher than the U.S. women’s average by 28%.

For the first time in three years of examining salaries based on broad groups of racial or ethnic heritage, there was a gap in reported salaries for respondents who identified as Black, Indigenous, and/or People of Color (BIPOC) and those who identified as “white only.” BIPOC fundraisers earned salaries of 10% less than those who identified as “white only.”

“Reviewing the study data, there’s nothing that explains why we saw this drop in salary for BIPOC fundraisers after nearly two years of almost equal compensation,” said Kevin J. Foyle, CFRE, MBA, vice president of development and public affairs for UTHealth in Houston, Texas, and chair of AFP. “This change is an area we’re going further explore related to the relationships between fundraising compensation and race and ethnicity.”

Staff Needed to Raise One Million Dollars

For the first time, the Compensation and Benefits Report looked at staffing ratios compared to the amount of money raised.

Survey participants provided information about the number of full-time employee (FTE) fundraising professionals in their organization and the range of the amount raised by their organization. When compared by subsector, most types of entities have two to three fundraising professional FTEs for each $1 million raised.

However, staffing is discernably lower for international aid and development groups, ranging from 0.7 to 1.7 FTEs per $1 million raised. By contrast, arts, culture and humanities groups, as well as environmental organizations, each have slightly higher staffing patterns, up to 4.5 FTEs per $1 million raised.

“We know that fundraisers and charity leaders are interested in understanding the relationship between the number of fundraisers in a development team and the amount of money that can be raised or is typically raised,” said Foyle. “Of course, there are many factors involved in raising money beyond just the number of staff, so while this new data is very general right now, it can be a helpful guideline for setting some preliminary expectations.”

Factors Affecting Pay and Retention

Unsurprisingly, fundraising experience continues to be the strongest factor in determining compensation. Other factors, in order of importance, include age of the fundraiser, longest period at the same employer, years at their current employer and number of employers in their career.

Four in ten respondents (39%) agreed with the statement that their organizations “explicitly state that achieving specific performance goals will be a factor in determining a pay raise.” In contrast, 37% stated that fundraising performance goals are NOT part of determining compensation, and over 20% were neutral on the topic.

Just 50% of respondents reported thinking about leaving their jobs in 2020, a significant decrease from the roughly two-thirds of participants who did in prior years. Reasons for seeking other employment remain similar as in past years, including:

  • Seeking opportunities for career advancement (61%)

  • Higher pay (59%)

  • Frustrating work environment (39%)

  • Lack of support for fundraising in the organization (30%)

  • Unrealistic employer expectations related to the job (25%)

When asked about plans for 2021, more than 80% of respondents intended to remain in the job they held early in the year. The remaining study participants were evenly split between seeking another job with the same employer and looking for work elsewhere.

“Far fewer fundraisers in 2020 thought about leaving their jobs than in previous years, and the pandemic was likely a huge reason for that decrease,” said Geiger. “Otherwise, these retention numbers are similar to the data in past reports. While the fundraising process is most effective when fundraisers remain at their jobs, good professionals are always going to seek out other opportunities and higher pay. What I want AFP to focus on is ensuring that fundraisers have the support necessary to succeed in their roles, and that boards and CEOs have realistic expectations about what fundraisers can accomplish. That’s why we’re developing our new leadership program, in conjunction with the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy, to help educate and train fundraisers in these sorts of skills.”

General Demographics

More than eight in ten respondents (81%) were women, significantly higher than the 69% of AFP members in the AFP database who selected woman as their gender. Among survey participants who provided information about their primary ethnicity or race, 84% indicated they are white/non-Hispanic, and 14.2% selected another option offered. These figures align with the 86% of AFP members who report their ethnic heritage or racial background on their membership materials as white.

The largest share of survey participants are chief development officers (40%), while fundraising officers (major gifts, planned giving, etc.) accounted for 14% and fundraising program managers (annual fund, for example) for 11%. Agency CEO or executive directors were 15 percent of respondents.

A very high percentage of participants (42%) do not supervise or manage any other staff member, just slightly higher than the 40% who reported the same in the previous survey. Just over one-quarter of participants (26%) manage three or more colleagues, similar to the previous survey.

The average U.S. participant has worked for 3.4 employers as a fundraiser. Study participants averaged 5.4 years at their current employer, and 6.7 years is the average for the longest time at any employer, both slight increases from the previous survey.

About the Survey

A total of 3,261 AFP members in the United States submitted usable responses by the time the survey closed, a response rate of 20.5%. Respondents vary from year to year.

The 2021 AFP Compensation and Benefits Report is available free to AFP members on the AFP website at https://afpglobal.org/salarysurvey.

Non-members can purchase the report for $99.



Since 1960, the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) has been the standard bearer for professionalism in fundraising. The association works to advance effective and ethical philanthropy by providing advocacy, research, education, mentoring, collaboration and technology opportunities for the world’s largest network of professional fundraisers. AFP’s 26,000 members in more than 240 chapters raise over $100 billion annually for a wide variety of charitable organizations and causes across the globe. For more information, go to www.afpglobal.org.

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