About The Author

David Grabitske

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

On February 8, 2011, state demographer Tom Gillaspy released the report Minnesota Milestones, which looks at 60 indicators of the state’s progress. One of those was average wage, which showed an average of $21.85/hour (Weekly Wage/40 hours) for 2009.

In 2006 Local History Services conducted a survey of salary paid for work at local historical organizations. The average for an executive director was $15.18/hour, curators $12.27/hour, and educators $14.45/hour. Those are the three most common employees. According to the Milestone report, however, the average wage in 2006 was $21.66/hour. Average wages were computed from the Minnesota Department of Employment & Economic Development’s Positively Minnesota online database.

It’s hard to compare apples to apples between these two datasets. Few of those reporting in the local history salary survey in 2006 had benefits, so one difference in the rate may be that the state average includes fringe benefits. Deducting 20 percent for benefits brings the average weekly down to $17.32. (Sample rates of benefits as a percentage of compensation found online ranged from 10-30 percent.)

Granted, some may argue that satisfaction is part of the remuneration. Perhaps it is, knowing that you preserved something important for the community, made a key connection for a genealogist to piece together elements of their family story, inspiring a child to think more critically and broadly, helping a veteran face hard memories heroically, providing many people comfort in times of great need, etc. The chance to make a difference for people in the work we do is very real, and highly satisfying.

Still, one has to ask if the work of an executive director of a local historical organization in Minnesota is potentially worth 70 to 88 percent of the average worker? A full 64 percent of executive directors have college degrees or higher, and thus are highly trained and skilled. Whereas Minnesotans with college degrees in 2006 was 30.4 percent.

In what ways might boards of local historical organizations use the Minnesota Milestones report to benchmark the progress of their organizations? How crucial is it to address compensation to keep talent in local communities?

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