This is for my approximately 1.1 readers who do not also read Copperbadge's blog. He has a really good post up there today, about the how and why of non profit agencies' paying decent salaries to their Executive Directors. I urge you to go forth and read it.
I've worked for non-profit agencies, on and off, for over fifteen years. I also took a few classes in non-profit management and fundraising. I admit I'm not an expert, but I do know a few things.
At the lower echelons, many non-profit agencies pay their employees a little less than what the employees could expect to earn in the for-profit world. It is easy to take that fact and interpret it to mean that non-profit employees are there because they love the work and they are willing to make less in order to further the good works of the agency. You might be right. But you'd also be overlooking a few other facts that influence many employees' decisions about working in the non-profit world.
To compensate for those lower salaries, the vacation and sick leave policies at most non-profits are much more liberal than the policies at comparable profit making companies. Additionally, bereavement leave, bad weather absences, and things like that are treated much more leniently. When my father died, I was given up to two weeks to fly across country, attend his memorial, and hang out with my mother and sister until we were all on an even keel. (Mind you, I didn't take all that time, but they told me I could have that much, and after that it would be coming out of my considerable accumulation of sick leave.) Many health insurance companies give favorable rates to non-profit agencies. So for most employees of non-profit agencies, they have vastly superior insurance, at a lower cost if they pay any of it at all, than they would have had with employment in the private, for-profit, sector.
Add it up, and non-profit employees are frequently paid AT A MINIMUM on par with their for-profit counterparts. Why should the chief executive of a non-profit agency be treated any differently?
A non-profit expects its Executive Director not only to work full time for the agency, it expects hir to work between 80 and 160 hours a week for your agency. Additionally, the ED is expected to donate money to the agency AND hir spouse is frequently called upon to donate money and/or volunteer to help out with events. If there are children, they will be expected to volunteer if old enough or look cute in pictures if too young to volunteer. The return on investment on the Executive Director's salary is pretty impressive.
For a while I was the volunteer development officer of a start up non-profit. It went to pieces because the founder and executive director was a flake. But he put his heart and soul into that agency. He put almost all of his own money into it. None of the staff got pay I would eventually find just the right grant opportunity, the right words to write, and the right eyes to see those words, that we would be funded to pay a decent wage to all of us. Including the flaky ED.