The philanthropic sector is necessarily unique, and most often that’s a good thing. But not always: while the non-profit sector is built on values of goodwill, assistance, inclusion, sharing and equality, assuming there is a moral obligation for people to work there only as volunteers, or on a shoestring, would be misleading and harmful. This assumption is still alive and well, however, and it has repercussions on remuneration for the professionals who work in this sector.

Why do unspoken assumptions and knee‑jerk reactions still lead many people to expect, and even demand, that we pay as little as possible to people who work, day in and day out, to make our society a better place?

Five unspoken assumptions about remuneration in the philanthropic sector

In researching remuneration in the philanthropic sector, we noticed that public perceptions have been highly influential. There is a persistent, automatic association between working in philanthropy and not being paid, as if doing good were limited to volunteering. Like any sector of activity, however, and in light of day‑to‑day mobilization among employees, the non‑profit sector has evolved and developed its own ethos. Working in the philanthropic sector no longer means helping out in one’s spare time; it means steady work for a cause that will serve its beneficiaries.  

Public perceptions that are based on lack of information and awareness give rise to unspoken assumptions about remuneration in the philanthropic sector: the touchy issue that dares not speak its name.

The most common of these unspoken assumptions include the following.

  1. Raising money for charitable organizations is child’s play, so why should people be paid to do it?
  2. People who work for non‑profit organizations do so in order to give meaning to their lives. They are volunteers, who are satisfied with doing good and are not interested in financial compensation.
  3. The philanthropic sector doesn’t need to pay its employees well because the feeling of making the world a better place is highly valuable in itself.
  4. Because they have an innate desire to do good, people who work in the philanthropic sector don’t need any specialized training or credentials. Anybody can work for a non‑profit organization.
  5. It’s wrong for employees of non‑profit organizations and foundations to be highly paid; if they were, they would be getting rich at the expense of the cause.

Take control of your compensation policy!

Download your guide to adopting good practices, recruiting new talent and retaining your employees.

Guide gratuit sur la rémunération dans le secteur philanthropique
Assumptions have repercussions

These unspoken assumptions have repercussions . Talented individuals with specialized training who want to become involved as professionals in the philanthropic sector are nevertheless hesitant, if not reluctant, to work there because they think they may not earn a decent living, or may be limited to this sector as if they were less productive than in the private sector.

These graduates are faced with a dilemma: whether to succeed, for themselves and their families; or to help the rest of the world. It is as if these options were mutually exclusive. Without adequate information, they will opt to work in a non‑charitable sector for higher pay, which they can then direct toward charitable donations. Influenced by unspoken assumptions, they feel unable to make what looks like a major economic sacrifice. It is in our sector’s interest to take a look at its brand as an employer, its positioning in society, and the values it upholds.

Regrettably, there is an exodus of fundraisers from the philanthropic sector, where good causes rely on these professionals to survive.

The fundraiser exodus will inevitably affect donations to charities. These organizations will not have the resources to research, analyse, segment and approach potential donors. The exodus will also affect services to beneficiaries. Having to work short-staffed will make it impossible for organizations to provide optimum support to their beneficiaries and broaden the services they offer to meet ever‑growing needs in their communities.

And that’s not all. The fundraiser exodus will perpetuate unspoken assumptions about remuneration in the philanthropic sector. Mindsets won’t change until they confront reality.

Changing mindsets means attracting talented individuals.

A number of positive factors can go a long way toward changing mindsets about remuneration in the philanthropic sector and moving it forward. We suggest five.


    By requiring credentials and professional association membership when recruiting, we foster professionalism and encourage training development in the sector. Work in a non‑profit organization calls for a range of expertise including seeking donors, managing donor relations, donor stewardship, and donor recognition, to name only those few. This work calls for multiple, specific skills in individuals who can work independently in accurately collecting, analysing and segmenting information, and who are also knowledgeable about public relations, communications and finances. All these skills are required in employees who are expected to excel at fundraising.


    If we expect high performance from employees, we need to offer high‑performance remuneration. This is the time for non‑profit organizations to draw up a remuneration policy, on the basis of position profiles being sought and labour market facts. If we want to hire specific talent, we need to write a clear position description and offer remuneration that reflects the experience and expertise we expect. It is in non‑profit organizations’ interest to take the time to consider the relationship between the skills they need and the pay and other benefits they can offer.

    If we want to change mindsets and dissipate unspoken assumptions about remuneration in the philanthropic sector, we need to educate the public. That means providing information about the philanthropic sector in relevant publications, articles and podcasts. Non‑profit organizations need to raise public awareness by creating their own content, highlighting the benefits of their cause for society. If we want to disprove the assumed equation between charity and volunteering, we need to promote and demonstrate the positive results of appropriate remuneration.

    There is also an ongoing need to say what the sector needs in terms of recruitment, to show that philanthropy needs qualified individuals with specialized training and diplomas and focused expertise in several fields. Being specific, particularly in job postings, will help promote fairer remuneration. Specific job postings can help reach potential recruits and pique the curiosity of applicants who are changing careers or looking for work that is more focussed on human values.

    Since May 1, 2021, the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Quebec Chapter (AFP Quebec) has required that job offers posted on its Internet site include salary ranges. This requirement is an effective way to ensure equity among candidates who apply to an organization. It also exerts positive pressure to offer worthwhile salaries. As well, greater transparency will allow us to have a constructive conversation about renumeration; while the data that organizations provide in their return of information (form T3010) are public, this information remains limited.


An article by Mathilde Duval.

Put the candidate at the heart of your job offers!

Download your checklist to optimize your job postings.

Aperçu de la liste de vérification offres d'emploi