About The Author

David Grabitske

David Grabitske is the manager of outreach services at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Yahoo! recently presented a story on the Worst Paying College Jobs. Although one might expect to see “historian” on that list, there were ten others listed instead. So, plugging a few numbers into PayScale and setting it to Minnesota, the result was just above $51,000/year. PayScale also offers a free account, which might be useful in setting compensation at local history museums.

However, the PayScale result tendered does seem to be higher than reality. In 2006 the Local History Services Salary Survey showed that executive director salary was approximately $42,000. Still, another number is always useful to boards that wrestle with setting appropriate compensation to attract and retain talented staff.

What other tools do you use when considering compensation?

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6 Responses to Compensation for history

  1. $42,000? Really? Where are these jobs as I’d really like to apply for one. 🙂

    My 8th grade math teacher taught me that using an average to determine a figure like this can get a bit tricky. I would be more curious to see what the median figure is as opposed to the average–if that can be determined. If I went to my overlords and said “you know, the average salary for a person in my field is $42,000”, I’d get laughed out of the room.

    When our comp worth officer reviewed our salary structure, he struggled with my position since it is such a rarity, to the point that he said “this is my best guess”. And trust me, his ‘best guess’ was not anywhere near $42,00.


  2. Medians can be deceiving also. The median is about $50,000, since the range runs from about $20,000 to a little over $80,000. Mode (most often reported) is about $28,000.

    Bottom line is that the local history “industry” needs to provide a living wage in order to assure that those with training and skills can be retained in as many places so that the public has continued access to the best care for its history.


  3. Here’s an article about one author’s opinion that national volunteerism initiatives can hurt nonprofit compensation. Interesting points, but I would be curious to hear from local historical organizations in Minnesota as to whether these arguments are appropriate when discussing local history compensation.



  4. I’m not sure that they do, given the fact that most local history organizations have very few paid staff of any stripe or training. We all seek volunteers to expand what we can do, not generally substitute for paid staff (well, except for here, where we really cannot afford to hire anyone else right now, but desperately need some help that would ordinarily be paid).

    However, the overall point made a lot of sense to me. By treating nonprofit work as if it is less valuable, and somehow less in need of decent compensation, it does devalue our work significantly. I did not realize that the health insurance reimbursements in the new health care bill were less for nonprofits than for profits–that really stinks. If you cut me, do I not bleed as much as someone working in business?

    We are, however, preaching to the choir here. I’m not sure the proper venue to promote both the value of nonprofit work (and the millions it saves us taxpayers), and the value of nonprofit work for those of us who do it, and our right to a living wage and benefits, but it is not here.


  5. Patty Dean says:

    A related consideration on the question of “volunteer” interns is discussed in this recent non-profit electronic newsletter; my apologies if it’s already been covered on this blog. This issue is definitely something we all need to be aware of: http://www.blueavocado.org/content/legalities-nonprofit-internships & also http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/03/business/03intern.html

    I’m not sure how interns earning academic credits fit into this, however.


  6. Ben says:

    I think the largest effect on salary is budget. If you look at a historical society with a budget of $150,000, one with $250,000, and one with $350,000 the main difference is salary. Our fixed costs are more or less the same (usually). Sure, the larger budget organizations may have more staff, but not twice or three times as much. If my budget were $20,000 larger I would make more money. I wouldn’t realistically do more work than I do now, but I bet my salary would be $5,000 higher. I think this is especially true if you look at MHS historic sites compared to CHS’s. I’m not blaming MHS or complaining about CHS’s, it’s just the way it is.


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