Nonprofit chief operating officers (and directors of operations) carry out the day-to-day operational management of nonprofits, including overseeing staff, programs, finances, and facilities. They are typically members of the executive leadership team, working closely with the chief executive officer (or executive director) to ensure that the organization is running efficiently and effectively. They are also among the highest-paid nonprofit executives, along with the CEOs.
How is the COO different than the CEO? The CEO is responsible for setting the strategic direction and making top-level decisions, while the COO oversees the day-to-day operations and implements the CEO's vision. In a 501(c)(3) charity setting, the CEO and executive directors have additional fundraising responsibilities, which COOs do not have. While the vast majority of nonprofits do not have COOs (or directors of operations) on staff, this analysis found 12,010 that do, typically larger organizations.
Nonprofit COOs earn an average of $199,696 per year in total compensation, including benefits. Half of the COOs at tax-exempt organizations make more than $148,847 per year. The top 5% of nonprofit COOs earn more than $498,773, and the bottom 5% of nonprofit COOs (including Directors of Operations) earn less than $41,816 per year. The highest paid nonprofit COOs earn more than $1M per year, with some well over that amount.
The highest-paid nonprofit COOs (making more than $500,000 per year) tend to work for hospitals, universities, and trade associations. Conversely, the lowest-paid nonprofit COOs (making less than $50,000 per year) tend to work for churches, animal shelters, and humanitarian organizations. What's the difference between these types of organizations? The higher-paid COOs tend to work for larger organizations with more employees and complicated operations. These nonprofits also tend to earn significant revenues from providing program services (e.g., tuition fees, membership dues) versus being reliant on donations and grants. While trade associations may seem like an outlier for highly-paid COOs, they are actually complex entities. Associations must manage the activities of many different organizations within a particular industry, including lobbying, developing industry standards, providing legal assistance, creating educational programs, and dealing with complex federal and state regulatory issues.
The following charts show a breakdown of COO total compensation ranges at nonprofits, and which types of nonprofits pay their COOs more than $500,000 per year.
|COO salary||Number of nonprofit COOs|
|$100,000 to $250,000|
|$250,000 to $500,000|
|$500,000 to $1,000,000|
|Nonprofit type||Number of nonprofits w/COOs paid >$500k per year|
|Trade / professional associations|
|Organizations supporting a health care nonprofit|
|Multiservice human service organizations|
|Public health programs|
|Urban development organizations|
Cause IQ digitizes and cleans electronic and paper / scanned Form 990s for over 1.8 million IRS-registered tax-exempt organizations. In this article, we looked at personnel who were the COOs and Directors of Operations, eliminating people who no longer work at their nonprofits, only worked a partial year at the nonprofit in the most recent Form 990, worked less than 30 hours a week at the nonprofit, or earned less than $5,000 per year (indicating an atypical staffing situation). This resulted in a list of 12,010 COOs and Directors of Operations. The compensation figures, unless otherwise noted, are for total compensation, which we calculate by adding Form 990, Part VII, Columns D, E, and F.
Article originally published on February 2, 2023.