Association Salary Survey – A Report

Operating in Brussels for more than 10 years placing many candidates in public affairs, communication and association leadership positions, Ellwood Atfield has launched a new 28-page report on remuneration within European associations. Through regular contacts with clients and candidates they have amassed considerable data on compensation packages in Brussels, across sectors and seniority levels. The core of this salary report is based on an in-depth survey we finalized in 2017 of over 200 senior association secretariat staff.

Words Mark Dober, Senior Director, Ellwood Atfield

EU-focused associations are big business. According to the Federation of European and International Associations (FAIB) there are 2,265 associations based in and around Brussels, which have a total estimated annual income of €2.9 billion, and employ 13,400 people. These include professional associations representing specific professions; important Non-Governmental Organisations; and some 1,600 European trade associations representing business sectors.

The key finding of our previous remuneration analysis was that salaries in Brussels vary enormously. Again we found this to be the case with associations, across all levels of seniority. There are a number of new elements presented here, including job satisfaction. Notably, according to our 2017 study of senior staff in Brussels-based European associations, almost three-quarters reported being happy or very happy in their jobs. There are many reasons and interesting personal examples behind this data. In our one-to-one interviews we do find tremendous satisfaction amongst association leaders which is often explained by a strong sense of freedom to operate, and long term thinking, especially compared to corporate environments.

Overall European association salaries are considerably higher than those found in the general Belgian economy, reflecting the premium paid for European affairs positions, which attract high calibre staff from around the European Union. Although association staff are relatively well paid they are also highly taxed; data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development shows that Belgium has the highest income taxes in the developed world. Belgian taxation partly explains why associations do not tend to have a strong bonus culture. According to our research almost half of secretariat staff receive no bonus whatsoever, and only about 15% receive more than a 10% annual bonus. However, there are a number of perks and benefits available to association staff in Belgium, which are less common elsewhere. For instance, cars In Belgium with the free use of fuel are fairly common for senior staff due to their relatively favourable tax treatment.

While some Brussels Director General (DG) salaries may seem high, they are not the highest in the world. On a recent visit to meet our Washington DC headhunter associates at Lochlin Partners we discovered that the average DG/CEO of a US trade association earns in excess of US $650,000. Indeed, the US Chamber of Commerce CEO earns more than US $6 million in base salary and bonus per year. DGs can also earn very high salaries in other European jurisdictions where we operate especially when running international associations in Geneva. In the UK, Ellwood Atfield recently partnered with the Trade Association Forum to survey salaries from 102 trade associations that together employ 1,530 staff. According to the research UK DGs typically earn £73,000 to £124,000 with a number earning up to £332,000 per annum excluding bonus. The detailed report is available on request.

 Association Leaders

Whether salaried or independent the DG of a European association statistically speaking on average earns €144,550 income per year. Around one-quarter of DGs are employed as independent contractors, with the rest operating as salaried employees of the association.

Although around half of independent DGs earn €120,000 up to €210,000, over 40% of Independent DGs we surveyed earn €210,000 – €350,000 per annum, with a fortunate few earning more than €350,000. Of the salaried employee DGs, just over a quarter earn less than €100,000, almost 40% earn €100,000 – €160,000, and just over 30% earn €160,000 to €300,000 with only a very few earning higher amounts. Salaried DGs enjoy the highest amounts of benefits with the majority having meal vouchers, group pension plans, smartphones, private healthcare, car leases and petrol cards.

According to our research, the majority of heads of policy or public affairs in trade associations are highly experienced, with almost 70% having between 10 and 20 years’ work experience since leaving university. Around 85% are salaried employees and 15% are self-employed. Almost two-thirds of Heads of Policy earn under €100,000, while only around one-fifth earn €120,000 to €200,000, with a fortunate few earning higher amounts normally as independents.

According to our research, 85% of policy officers in trade associations have less than 10 years’ work experience, and nearly all are salaried employees. The vast majority of policy officers or public affairs managers earn less than €80,000 per annum. The average salary for this category is around €45,000 with around 40% earning less than €40,000 per annum.

Communication roles

Interestingly, around two-thirds of heads of communications are women, and the majority are highly experienced with over 15 years’ of work experience. Around 70% earn less than €100,000 as a gross salary, and only 20% earn more than €120,000.

Communication managers are less experienced, with around three quarters having less than 14 years’ of experience. Salaries are much lower, with the vast majority earning less than €70,000 per annum. The overall average salary for communications managers is around €55,000.

In our experience, money is only one part of overall job satisfaction, it is also about having positive colleagues and bosses, work/life balance, job autonomy, career development opportunities, job security, and possibly even a higher purpose to what you do. European association jobs typically tick many of these boxes.

This report is available for free download here.

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