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Study finds salaries on the rise, topping $1 million for some fundraisers at top US charities

Raising money for charity has become lucrative work.

A new study of 280 nonprofits released Monday by the Washington-based Chronicle of Philanthropy shows nearly 30 top fundraisers have been earning more than $500,000, and at least two surpassed the $1 million mark. The data is from 2011, the most recent year available.

The top compensation went to Anne McSweeney, campaign director at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, who was paid more than $1.2 million in 2011, and Susan Feagin, who earned more than $1 million as the top fundraiser at New York's Columbia University. Most of the money paid to each woman came in the form of bonuses after major fundraising efforts.

More than two dozen other fundraisers that year were paid between $500,000 and $1 million. Some of the top-paying institutions were Yeshiva University in New York, City of Hope medical center near Los Angeles and the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

The study examined nonprofits that raised more than $35 million each and found that most of the top salaries for fundraisers were being paid by universities and hospital systems. Fundraisers in the arts, environmental groups and other nonprofits were earning less. The findings raise questions for some about how much donated money is being devoted to a charity's mission.

"You have a very small, elite group of fundraisers that are in extremely high demand that are becoming millionaires while raising funds for a public charity that is supported by taxpayers," said Ken Berger, president of the nonprofit watchdog group Charity Navigator.

He said the high compensation for fundraisers defies what nonprofits were created for and what was intended when they were exempted from taxes to support the public good.

Not all top charities pay top dollar, though, Berger noted. The American Red Cross, which raises $3 billion a year, paid its chief development officer just over $350,000.

Universities and hospitals don't represent the majority of nonprofits, he said. But they take in the bulk of money donated to nonprofits, according to Charity Navigator data.

Some observers said the increased pay for fundraisers came as nonprofits sought to replace money that was lost or declined during the past recession, particularly support from government and foundations.

Lois Lindauer, a Boston-based recruiter who specializes in filling top development posts, said nonprofits need the best talent they can get to raise revenue, and talent costs money. She said she supports competitive compensation. But it hasn't always been this high.

"As time has gone by in the last 10 years, I think it has slowly accelerated," she said.

Before the recession, some nonprofits got 80 percent of their support from foundations and government sources. Now that's down to 22 percent or less for some groups.

"The pressure is on," Lindauer said. "That gap has to be filled in some way."

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Chronicle of Philanthropy: http://philanthropy.com/

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Follow Brett Zongker at https://twitter.com/DCArtBeat .

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