Why You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty About Getting Paid to Help Animals

By Paula Fitzsimmons

Have you ever noticed how some people bristle at the idea of a nonprofit worker getting paid a salary? As if dedicating one’s life to animals, the environment, or some other worthy charitable cause means the work should be done strictly on a volunteer basis.

It’s not as if people who work for animal charities are motivated by greed and profit. Like anyone else, they just want to be able to earn a living. Most of us have expenses, and unless you’re the rare recipient of a lavish trust fund, I’ll assume you do, too.

So why do some feel the need to begrudge charity workers?

Perhaps they’re focused on the few cases of charity executives who appear to be – and in some cases, maybe are – grossly overpaid. These people are in the minority. I think it’s fair to say most people who get into animal welfare or rescue work don’t fall into this category. They do it for the right reasons  . . . because they genuinely care about animals and want to improve their lives.

If you work for an animal welfare organization and find yourself having to defend your salary, you may want to consider the following talking points.


Animal nonprofits can’t rely solely on volunteers

Meaningful change  – the kind we want to see occur for animals – doesn’t happen quickly, nor by accident. If you’ve ever witnessed a bill as it moves through the legislative process, you know what I mean. Whether working with legislators to create  animal-friendly bills, setting up education programs for the public, or attempting to woo donors into giving money to your cause, change takes time . . . sometimes even years, and decades.

Some argue that charities should be able to rely solely on volunteers to perform all these tasks. Don’t get me wrong . . . volunteers are crucial to the success of many organizations. They can be a lifeline to nonprofits, offering services that some groups (especially those with few resources) may not otherwise be able to afford.

The truth is, few volunteers can make the time commitment required to make sweeping changes. Because people have obligations, most charities would be hard-pressed to find volunteers willing to work 40 hours (and often many more) per week, and perform the most trivial of duties. Paychecks motivate people to go to work on a regular basis – and that’s not a bad thing.

Creating meaningful change also requires being able to attract people who possess specific skills. If a group wants to create animal-friendly policy, for instance, they’ll likely need a cadre of experts – researchers, policy experts, lawyers, scientists, or others versed on the topic. Each of these professionals has likely received specialized training and will spend hours upon hours working collaboratively towards the desired goal.  And they have bills to pay, too.


You’ve chosen to earn less than your business counterparts

I don’t know of anyone who gets into animal charity work for the money. It’s no secret that nonprofits, especially the smaller ones, typically pay less than their for-profit counterparts.

For instance, according to an article on The Law Dictionary, the starting salary for corporate lawyers is about $125,000 or more per year. Lawyers who choose to work for nonprofits, however, can expect to start at about $50,000 to $75,000 a year.

The 2014 CEO Compensation Study by Charity Navigator shows that the 2012 median salary of a CEO working for an animal charity was $105,865. Compare that with what a corporate CEO can earn. After added perks such as stock options and profit sharing (which nonprofit workers can’t enjoy), those compensation packages can translate to millions per year.

Two sets of workers, each with the same skills, levels of expertise, and job responsibilities . . . yet earning very different levels of pay.


Work is work

Work is work, whether done on behalf of animals or for a business. It’s unlikely someone will pay you a salary to pet puppies and kittens all day long. You’ll be earning your keep – working as hard as or in some cases, harder than your business counterparts. Charity work does not equate to glamour and good times.

It takes the same amount of expertise, educational experience, and time to complete a comparable project for a charity as it does for a business – whether writing a news release, keeping financial records, maintaining a website, advising on legal matters, or running a diverse organization.

Nobody should have to work for free. . . including those who dedicate their lives to animals and the environment. You’ve chosen to use your skills, talents, and time to create good in the world  – and that good work should be rewarded. Earning a salary for doing meaningful work is not a bad thing, and in fact should be commended.

What are your thoughts on this?


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