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Competitive pay: a new salary study sets baselines for mid-level and support staff.

ASSOCIATIONS ARE INCREASINGLY BECOMING A popular hub for potential job seekers. According to the Internal Revenue Service, about 500 new associations were formed last year, a trend that has remained fairly stable in recent years. The continued growth of the association industry potentially opens more doors for would-be association employees with various backgrounds and skill levels.

Personnel such as directors of human resources departments, directors and managers within other departments, CEOs and their deputies, and even employee search consultants are at the helm of the process of hiring potential association employees. They are faced with the ongoing challenge of attracting and retaining talented staff, knowing that compensation is one of the most powerful vehicles to do so.

Staff compensation has become a hot topic, particularly in light of competition that associations have from for-profit enterprises and other associations that may boast higher pay and more attractive perks. Generation X-ers have also prompted employers to make sure they are on the mark when it comes to competitive compensation. Generation X-ers, in comparison to their baby boomer predecessors, expect higher compensation, job-hop more frequently, and anticipate advancing at a faster rate. So how can hiring managers be sure they are paying employees equitably? What are the most influential determinants of staff compensation? What factors should they use when determining competitive staff salaries?

Common lack of salary plans

The majority of associations have no formal mechanism in place to determine staff compensation. In 2000, only 37 percent of associations had formal salary administration plans and slightly more than one fifth of associations (23 percent) used an outside consultant to help guide critical decisions relevant to compensation and benefits packages. The likelihood of an association having a salary administration plan or using compensation experts hinged on the staff size of the organization. As shown in Figure 1, less than one tenth of the associations with two or fewer staff had a formal salary administration plan. Similarly, only three percent of associations with staff sizes of two or fewer used an outside consultant for advice about staff compensation. As seen in Figure 1, the larger the staff of an association, the more likely it was to have a plan and/or use outside consultants to recommend staff salaries.

Using the new study for comparisons

Fortunately, hiring managers have had access to ASAE's biennial executive compensation study--now in its 13th edition--to gauge whether salary levels and benefits offered to their staff were commensurate with like positions at organizations of similar type and size. However, these studies focused only on executive-level positions such as CEO, deputy CEO, chief financial officer, chief staff attorney, and heads of various divisions and departments. (See "Compensation in Changing Times" in the April 2002 issue of ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT.)

ASAE has recently released a new compensation study focusing solely on nonexecutive positions. The "Association Staff Compensation and Benefits Study" includes 28 middle-level professional positions such as accountant, ad sales representative, compensation! benefits specialist, controller, education manager/coordinater, marketing specialist, meeting manager, and public relations representative. It also includes 22 nonexempt, support/clerical positions such as administrative assistant, accounts payable/receivable, conference/meeting/exposition coordinator, customer/member service representative, membership/subscription clerk, mailroom clerk, and receptionist. (To order the study, contact the ASAE Member Service Center at 888-950-ASAE or 202-371-0940. Request product #AMB-213100: $l25 for members; $195 for nonmembers.)

The study is based on reports of 2001 staff compensation from 952 associations within the united States. The responding organizations were generally comparable to the overall ASAE membership organizations, representing trade associations (53 percent) and individual member ship organizations (47 percent). The largest number of responding organzations reflected incomes between $1 million and $2.5 million and staff sizes between 1 and 10 employees. Most had members that were located nationally and internationally. Predictably, the single largest portion of responding organizations was located in the South Atlantic region of the United States, particularly Washington, D.C. Finally, the responding organizations hid various primary interest areas, but tie most frequently cited was health care/medical.

Implications of most common positions

Each association has its own requirements and complexities, which often dictate what types of staff are required to carry out the association's mission. Of the 50 nonexecutive positions examined in this study, administrative assistants, accountants, and fleeting planners/ coordinators were among the most popular positions. Table 1 summarizes most common middle-level professional and support/clerical positions within the association industry.

What is the significance of these common positions? They may reflect the tasks that are most crucial to the day-to-day functioning of associations. They also indicate to hiring managers and prospective employees which positions are most in demand. Given that many competing associations may also be recruiting talented personnel in these areas, associations may opt to give these positions special consideration when devising compensation levels and attractive perks.

Factors influencing salaries

What salaries do nonexecutive staff earn? Salaries ranged from $21,000 to $64,000. As expected, middle-level professional positions (exempt, full-time positions generally requiring higher education and/or specialized training) paid more than support/clerical positions (nonexempt, full-time positions typically not requiring advanced higher education and/or specialized training). In Figure 2, the median base salaries for all support/clerical and middle-level professional positions were $29,248 and $44,779, respectively.

Of course, the type of position can make the world of difference from one salary to the next. When examining position types for all respondants, software developers and controllers emerged as the highest paid middle-level professional positions; the administrative assistant to the CEO and payroll clerks surfaced as the highest paid support/clerical staff. Figures 3 and 4 illustrate the annual base salaries of the top five middle-level professional and clerical/support staff positions.

The type of position alone may not be enough to consider when determining what to pay your staff. The employee's educational level and the organization's staff size, budget size, and geographic location probably should be factored in as well. Take, for instance, the geographic region in which the association is located. The majority of middle-level professional and support/clerical positions in Chicago and Washington, D.C., were paid about 8-10 percent above the national average. Differences in the cost of living in a metropolitan area explain why geographic location affected compensation levels, since Washington, D.C., and Chicago are considered high-cost areas.

An organization's staff size and budget size influenced the majority of middle-level professional positions examined in this study. That is, the larger the organization's staff size, the higher the compensation for middle-level professional staff. Also, the larger the organization's budget size, the more middle-level professionals were paid. Interestingly, this pattern did not hold true for most clerical/support positions. The association's staff size and budget size had minimal impact on the compensation levels of most nonexempt, support/clerical staff positions.

Finally, the educational requirement for the position plays a critical role in compensation. On average, middle-level professional staff earn almost $16,000 more than clerical/support staff. A minimum of a bachelor's degree is required for almost all middle-level professional positions. On the other hand, a high school diploma or general education equivalent (GED) was the minimum prerequisite for just about all clerical/support staff positions.

The important lesson to be learned is that hiring managers should not stop at compensation levels that are based solely on position type; they should also add to the equation factors such as budget size, staff size, geographic region, and educational level. Whether associations have a reputation for paying their staff equitably and competitively is in the bands of the hiring personnel within associations. With the aid of ASAE's new nonexecutive compensation and benefits study as well as its executive compensation and benefits studies and other resources that ASAE can provide, hiring managers can begin to develop salary plans that fit the nuances of their organizations.

Five Most Common Non-Executive Staff Positions


Accountant Secretary/administrative
 assistant (general)
Meeting planner/ Secretary/administrative
coordinator assistant (to the CEO)
Editor Receptionist for organization
Education manager/coordinator Customer/member service representative
Database/records administrator Accounts payable

NOTE: Based only on the positions examined in the Association Staff
Compensation and Benefits Study.

Associations With Salary Administration Plans and Outside Compensation


 Have Salary Use Outside
STAFF SIZE: Administrative Plan Compensation Consultant

2 or fewer 8% 3%
3-5 16% 5%
6-10 26% 16%
11-20 34% 21%
21-50 62% 36%
51-100 80% 45%
More than 100 88% 65%

SOURCE: ASAE's Association Executive Compensation and Benefits Study,
12th Edition

Note: Table made from bar graph

Annual Base Salary for Middle-Level Professional and Support/Clerical
Staff: 2001



SOURCE: ASAE's Association Staff Compensation and Benefits Study

Note: Table made from bar graph

Top Five Highest Paid Support/Clerical Staff Positions: 2001



NOTE: Figures represent annual base salary of full-time staff

SOURCE: ASAE's Association Staff Compensation and Benefits Study

Note: Table made from bar graph

Top Five Highest Paid Support/Clerical Staff Positions: 2001



NOTE: Figures represent annual base salary of full-time staff

SOURCE: ASAE's Association Staff Compensation and Benefits Study

Note: Table made from bar graph

Steven Williams, ASAE's director of industry and market research, holds a doctorate in psychology. E-mail:
COPYRIGHT 2002 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Williams, Steven
Publication:Association Management
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2002
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