Nonprofits that pay top fundraisers $1 million (or more) a year

top paid fund raisers
Universities led the pack among nonprofits that paid fundraisers $500,000 or more, the study found.

Getting people to donate money is a big business, and some universities, hospitals and other nonprofits are rewarding their top fundraisers with as much as $1 million to bring in the big bucks.

When taking salary, bonuses, retirement, healthcare and other benefits into account, 29 nonprofit fundraisers earned more than $500,000 in 2011, while two executives took in more than $1 million, according to a Chronicle of Philanthropy study of tax returns for nonprofit organizations for 2011, the most recent year available. More than 150 fundraisers earned $250,000 or more.

Many of them received large bonuses, which in some cases more than doubled their annual earnings.

Among the most highly paid: development directors at universities, medical research centers and hospitals, many of which are expected to spearhead increasingly ambitious fundraising campaigns with multimillion or even billion dollar goals, said Stacy Palmer, the Chronicle's editor.

At the same time, these organizations are all competing for the country's most talented fundraisers, she said.

Related: Top charity CEOs pay exceeds $1 million

"The kinds of people who oversee these ambitious [fundraising] drives are a very rare breed," she said. "Everybody says there is a shortage of people who are terrific so people will pay premium dollars."

Meanwhile, the Chronicle found that those raising money for the arts and environmental nonprofits were typically paid much less.

Why your donation may not be deductible
Why your donation may not be deductible

New York City's Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center employed two of the top five highest-paid fundraisers. The renowned cancer hospital and research center paid one executive $1.2 million in total compensation, including a $750,000 bonus, and another exec earned nearly $900,000.

Sloan Kettering received more than $300 million in private donations that year. It declined to comment.

Related: Where your donation dollars go

The second most highly paid fundraiser works at Columbia University and earned close to $1.1 million, including a $520,000 bonus, according to the study.

The university said the bonus was given after it reached a fundraising goal of $4 billion, which it said was the most ever raised by an Ivy League institution.

"It is hardly surprising that this success should be significantly reflected in her compensation for this extraordinary period for the university," Columbia President Lee Bollinger said in a statement.

The Chronicle analyzed the tax documents of nonprofits with $35 million or more in donations in 2011. In total, it examined the compensation of more than 430 people employed at 280 nonprofits.

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