Sure, people at think tanks often complain about low salaries, but many do not realize that think tank heads are often making out like bandits.
In 2012, Think Tank Watch created a salary list of leaders at top think tanks. Think Tank Watch has now updated that list (see below) to reflect the latest publicly available information.
Please note: Several of the think tank presidents/CEOs listed are no longer with the think tank. Also, several heads of think tanks may have started in the middle of the year, and thus, their salary does not necessarily reflect an entire year.
- Ed Feulner (Heritage Foundation): $1,162,696
- Richard Haass (Council on Foreign Relations): $890,954
- Walter Isaacson (Aspen Institute): $783,449
- Arthur Brooks (American Enterprise Institute): $565,772
- James Poterba (National Bureau of Economic Research): $528,631
- Craig Kennedy (German Marshall Fund): $525,000
- Jessica Matthews (CEIP): $492,263
- Michael Rich (RAND Corp.): $489,066
- Edward Crane (Cato): $466,872
- Strobe Talbott (Brookings): $438,940
- Frederick Kempe (Atlantic Council): $420,000
- Fred Bergsten (Peterson Institute for International Economics): $406,105
- Merrick Carey (Lexington Institute): $386,942
- Jason Grumet (Bipartisan Policy Center): $384,502
- Jane Harman (Wilson Center): $375,000
- John Hamre (CSIS): $368,819
- Sarah Rosen Wartell (Urban Institute): $355,236
- Steve Coll (New American Foundation): $320,815
- Nancy Birdsall (Center for Global Development): $317,353
- Philip Sharp (Resources for the Future): $296,277
- Kenneth Weinstein (Hudson Institute): $285,906
- Neera Tanden (Center for American Progress): $254,739
- Ellen Laipson (Stimson Center): $243,657
- Scott Bates (Center for National Policy): $218,366
- Nathaniel Fick (Center for a New American Security): $217,786
- Lawrence Mishel (Economic Policy Institute): $214,349
- Jonathan Cowan (Third Way): $212,801
- Richard Solomon (US Institute of Peace): $196,759
- John Cavanagh (Institute for Policy Studies): $77,757
According to Simply Hired, the average think tank salary is $56,000. According to SalaryList, the average salary at a think tank is $47,136. According to Indeed, the average think tank salary is $66,000.
Here are some articles related to think tank salaries:
- New Republic: The Great Think Tank Bubble: Think Tank Salaries are Looking More and More Like Lobbyist Salaries.
- CFNC: A career as a think tank analyst is worth thinking about.
- Politico: Think tank jobs a lucrative landing spot.
- Houston Chronicle: How much would you make if you worked at a think tank?
Think Tank Watch is also keeping its eye on the National Think Tank Compensation Survey which is being administered by AKRON, Inc. They are working with a steering committee from Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP), Brookings Institution, Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), American Institutes for Research, and Population Council.
It is also worth noting that base pay of leaders at top think tanks is not wildly different from base pay of leaders at many top colleges and universities. That said, some heads of top universities have a much higher total compensation than even the highest-paid think tank head. Here is a look at executive compensation at public and private universities from The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Here is a useful link from The NonProfit Times which has, among other things, a chart of average base salary of non-profits by budget size.
Update: Here is an interesting thread about think tank salaries from the site Political Science Rumors.
And here is career guide from 80,000 Hours about working at a think tank, including the pros and cons of think tanking, and which think tanks are most promising to work for.