CEO Salary Dynamics: A Snapshot

a ceo climbing upward April 5, 2017

While the pressure, scrutiny, and responsibilities of an association CEO job are certainly no cake-walk, these executives get to lead mission-driven organizations toward achieving their goals. According to recent ASAE Foundation research, the pay is pretty good—and getting better.

If you’re wondering about trends in association CEO compensation, a new research brief from the ASAE Foundation has the good news: By and large, CEOs salaries are going up. In 2012, median CEO base salary was $150,000. It rose to $175,000 in 2014, and by 2016 it had reached $200,000. While a range of associations participated in the survey, the respondent pool varied from year to year, so the numbers reported in CEO Salary Dynamics, while potentially indicative of greater trends, are not a fully representative sample of the industry.

Organization Type and Location

Trade associations reported the highest median salary for their chief executives, at $212,088. Professional associations reported a median compensation rate of $193,000. From 2012 to 2016, CEO salaries rose by 40 percent at trade associations and 30 percent at professional associations. ASAE began tracking associations that defined themselves as “other” than solely trade or professional for the first time in 2014, and in 2016, these other organizations reported a median base salary of $210,936.

CEO compensation seems to be rising in some cities more quickly than in others. The most significant salary increases were in the Washington, DC, and New York City metropolitan areas, where salaries rose 40 percent between 2012 and 2016. The Chicago area followed, with a 21 percent increase during the same time.

Organization Size and Budget

CEO salary increases were higher in large and mid-size organizations, when tracked both by budget and staff size. But salary growth was not automatically more significant in larger organizations. For example, the biggest rates of increase in salaries from 2012 to 2016 occurred in organizations with 101 or more staff members (23 percent), but the next biggest jump was in organizations with 11 to 20 staff (22 percent).

When tracking by budget size, the largest percentage increase in CEO base salary from 2012 to 2016 was the 15 percent at organizations with budgets of $10 million to $25 million. But organizations with a budget of $1 million to $5 million dollars had the next largest increase at 13 percent. And from 2014 to 2016, base salaries at the highest level, $25 million or more, actually dropped by 1 percent. Respondents in the two budget categories less than $1 million saw either minimal growth or a slight drop.

33% Percentage by which CEO salaries have increased from 2012 to 2016 (all respondents)

Seventy-one organizations participated in the study in 2012, 2014, and 2016. While the small data sample precludes us making assumptions on the industry as a whole, trends from this cohort suggest that CEOs of larger organizations get paid more—but even at smaller organizations, they can expect to see fairly robust salary growth.

CEOs in the smallest budget category ($500,000 to $1 million) made just over one-third of what their colleagues at larger associations did—a median of $124,000 compared to $367,300. Even when adjusted for inflation, real growth in CEO base compensation at the organizations that took the survey in all three years averaged 11.2 percent from 2012 to 2016, and three out of four budget categories saw double-digit percentages of real growth.

While organizational size, budget, and location all matter, many other factors also influence CEO salary—including education, job history, and years of experience, topics explored in ASAE’s Pathways to CEO Success research brief. More in-depth benchmarking on CEO salaries, as well as benefits information, can be found in ASAE’s Association Compensation and Benefits Study, 2016-2017 Edition.