The ability to make a real difference in the lives of people in their cities, towns
and counties is what draws many park and recreation professionals to this
work. The valuable work of park and recreation agencies could not happen
without the dedication of the more than 150,000 full-time professionals who
serve these agencies.
As rewarding as the work is, however, park and recreation agencies must offer
competitive compensation to attract and retain the best people. Beyond base salaries and the possibility of earning a bonus, workers also consider other benefits when choosing an employer, including health care, retirement savings and vacation and sick days.
The NRPA Park and Recreation Salary Survey report gives park and recreation agency leaders data on how to attract the best staff. Similarly, this data also provides park and recreation professionals insights on salary and benefits offerings from potential employers.
The data presented in this report comes from a 19-question survey that the NRPA Research team sent to senior-level park and recreation agencies throughout the United States. The survey not only queried about salary data,
but also about general benefits and salary policies. It generated responses from 480 park and recreation agencies across the United States, resulting in a 19 percent response rate.
The NRPA Park and Recreation Salary Survey report features detailed base salary and bonus data for five typical park and recreation agency positions:
• Park and Recreation Agency Director (or Executive Director or Superintendent), with a median base salary on January 1, 2017, of $98,000
• Planning Director (or Superintendent), with a median base salary on January
1, 2017, of $85,290
• Director of Finance (or Business Manager or Director of Administrative), with a median base salary on January 1, 2017, of $83,575
• Recreation Director (or Recreation Superintendent or Assistant Director - Recreation), with a median base salary on January 1, 2017, of $72,000
• Park Operations Director (or Maintenance Director or Maintenance Superintendent), with a median base salary on January 1, 2017, of $70,000
But those “headline” numbers do not tell the full story about what your peers make in our industry. In much the same way that park and recreation agencies differ significantly in size, programming and facility offerings, and scope of mission and funding, they also differ in the responsibilities and, ultimately, compensation of their professional teams.
As a result, the NRPA Park and Recreation Salary Survey report provides a broader snapshot of compensation data, including a presentation of not only the median and average salary for each of the five occupations, but also the 10th, 25th, 75th and 90th percentile salaries and bonuses. Agencies with broader missions and offerings and those with greater funding resources may be more apt to pay their employees at the 75th or even 90th percentiles to recruit and retain professionals best suited for their agencies. Conversely, agencies with more modest offerings or funding resources may choose to target compensation levels for their team members that are below the median.
There are many factors that can impact a park and recreation professional’s compensation. This report also looks at the relationship between the characteristics of the agency and employee and their salary. These include:
• Agency size, as measured by the number of full-time staff employed: In general, base salaries and bonuses tend to be larger at agencies with larger full-time staffs.
• Agency type: Cities/towns, counties, special park districts/regional authorities and agencies located in urban locales. While base salaries and bonuses can vary significantly, both tend to be higher at special park districts and agencies located in urban locales.
• Region: The four census regions of Northeast, South, Midwest and West, with significant differences by region.
• The highest level of education attained: In general, park and recreation professionals with a bachelor’s degree tend to have larger base salaries than their peers without a four-year college degree, with professionals who have earned a graduate degree (e.g., master’s, MBA, JD, Ph.D.) typically earning even more.
• Certification: Many park and recreation professionals have professional certifications. Employees with a professional certification have greater success in moving up in their career, finding jobs or receiving promotions based on the job requirements of the employer. In addition, with certain job titles, park and
recreation professionals who have earned one or more professional certifications (including, but not limited to, the Certified Park and Recreation Professional (CRPP) and Certified Park and Recreation Executive (CPRE)) tend to earn more than their peers who do not hold these certifications.
• Years of professional experience: Experienced park and recreation professionals earn more than their peers who are relatively new to the field.
This column only scratches the surface of the wealth of compensation insights available from this report. There are summaries of key benefits offered to park and recreation professionals, including those for retirement, health insurance and paid time off. Furthermore, the report also has sample job descriptions and organization charts that can help your agency structure its team in a way that best serves its community. If you have not already done so, I encourage you to review the data and insights available with the NRPA Park and Recreation Salary Survey report.
Kevin Roth, Ph.D., is NRPA’s Vice President of Research.