The Truth about CSR Compensation: Many Truths


More professionals have become interested and passionate about sustainability, judging by the growth in related academic programs and anecdotally, the surge in networking and other professional events that have a corporate social responsibility (CSR) theme.   Idealism and the genuine desire to accomplish good, however, may conflict with the reality of paying the mortgage or rent check in cities like San Francisco or New York.


So what do CSR professionals receive as compensation?  Some would be appalled at the very question, believing that money should not be a factor at all in considering a career that benefits the public’s and planet’s good.  But unless you are a trust fund baby, money is just a reality. College loan payments are lurking, most vendors at farmers’ markets require payments, and there is that monthly payment for that hybrid car or transit pass.

Measuring CSR compensation also has its challenges.  The CSR profession has similarities to its cousins in the corporate strategy function. Just like strategy, CSR may be spread across various departments. It could very well be its own department with budget and metrics, or it could be tackled by an executive committee, with a C-level executive or vice-president wearing the CSR hat.  Then you have the disconnect between transparency, crucial to CSR, and the fact that at least in North America, freely sharing one’s salary has long been a no-no.

Ellen Weinreb, a CSR recruiter in Northern California, addresses many of the questions involved with the CSR profession.  On the surface, there is a wide range of compensation.  But when winnowing down to key factors including years of experience, the employer, job title, location, reporting relationships, and the overall package (e.g. benefits and vacation), clarity appears.  Beginning MBAs can expect plus or minus US$100K.  The mean for director-level CSR professionals is about US$150,000, but most salaries fall between US$120,000-130,000.  Vice presidents take in about US$220K, and those can climb to about US$350,000.  Granted, Weinreb’s sampling was relatively small, but her interviews with these professionals were extensive and in the end, revealed much about the field of CSR.

According to Weinreb, the assumption that CSR managers earn less than their counterparts within the organization is false.  However, they share some common frustrations:  fewer options for career advancement, inconsistency in salaries across different departments, and forget about a career in a start-up if you want the CSR hat—that is not going to happen (all out there who was promised that in exchange for sweat equity you’s receive heaps of stock for working at the next clean green Google, put your hands up!).

The upshot is that this field is still evolving.  Companies like Intel that measure performance based on environmental, social, or governance are still few and far between.  In the meantime, there is still little agreement over how to measure a CSR department or professional.  And many of us are guilty of analyzing a function’s effect that has huge consequences for people and the planet–using performance metrics that are either dated or just do not fit with the goals of the CSR manager.  Meanwhile, the profession is in a lull.

In the end, the old cliché about work-life balance still holds:  if you are motivated and proud of what you are doing, and look forward to getting into the office instead of wanting the bash the alarm clock—quibbling over your salary and comparing it to others would seem less important than knowing that somehow you are making a difference.

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

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