Supporting State Leaders Advancing the Movement

State of the States: Part 2

Strong and sustained leadership is an important part of building strong and effective state groups with the capacity to fend off the opposition and secure important wins for the LGBT community. We know that in the past year, states were able to withstand and defeat more than 100 anti-LGBT legislative attacks thanks to incredible state-based movement leaders.

In Part 1 of State of the States, we looked at how the state-based movement is funded. For Part 2, we turn our focus to the longevity and compensation of state executive directors.

Currently, 30 member organizations have executive director positions — 73% of groups. Six of those groups are currently searching for new leadership, reflecting significant turnover in the past year.

However, state executive directors have, as a whole, been staying in their jobs longer. Currently, of the organizations with executive directors, 62% have a tenure of 2 years or more while 16% were hired within the past year.


The average currently serving executive director has been in the role 3.7 years, up from just 1.5 years in 2011. Our longest serving ED, Nadine Smith at Equality Florida, skews the average a bit with more than 18 years of service. The median tenure is 2.5 years.

Equality Federation has been working to improve executive director tenure by supporting boards in recruiting strong candidates and by training and supporting those coming into leadership. Since starting our New Executive Director Boot Camp in 2010, we’ve seen a significant improvement in tenure. In fact, among EDs who left their jobs in the last four years, the average Boot Camp attendee stayed in the job a year longer than those who chose not to participate.

Support and training isn’t enough to hire and retain talented leaders; competitive compensation is also key. Federation member organizations pay a broad range of salaries to their employees, even among organizations with similar budget sizes. As of June 2015, the median ED salary was $74,625 — with the lowest at $13,846 and the highest at $180,000.

Of the organizations that responded to the survey, 28 reported Executive Director salaries. As shown below, we see a wide range of salaries among organizations with similar budgets. This range may be due to differences in the local cost of living, the level of experience and tenure of the executive, and the competitiveness of the local market for non-profit and political professionals.

Boards of directors should regularly evaluate executive compensation (as well as compensation of other employees) to ensure it is competitive with similar positions in the movement and other nonprofit organizations. The data above can be best used when considered alongside salaries for other leaders in your area.

Looking Forward
Of course, looking at tenure and compensation only shows part of the picture. Ultimately, successful leaders are judged by how they mobilize others to achieve real progress for LGBT people. In our daily work with state organizations, we’re consistently inspired by the remarkable acts of leadership we see from both new and long-serving executive directors who are working for change in their communities.

  • In Oklahoma and Texas, Executive Directors Troy Stevenson & Chuck Smith both defeated close to 20 anti-LGBT in each of their states.
  • Jeana Frazzini at Basic Rights Oregon led the successful campaign to ban conversion therapy on minors by licensed professionals, protecting young people from harm.
  • In the South, James Parrish at Equality Virginia brought together over 200 people from across Virginia and beyond the commonwealth to attend the second annual Virginia Transgender Information and Empowerment Summit, building a powerful group of transgender and allied advocates working for change in the state.
  • Troy Williams at Equality Utah rallied a strong coalition that partnered with conservatives and the Mormon Church to pass statewide nondiscrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.

Those are just a few of the amazing executive directors who, along with their staff, boards, organizational partners and supporters, are making a difference every day.

The State of the States survey is distributed in the spring of each year to all current Equality Federation member organizations. The survey is sent by email, and responses are collected over several months. The most current data was submitted by 41 organizations. Each year, the survey includes approximately 25 questions, some with multiple responses. Some organizations choose not to complete every question, leaving some answers blank. We report both the mean and median scores to allow for most accurate understanding and use.

The following two tabs change content below.

Ian Palmquist

Pin It on Pinterest