Some nonprofits are giants, paying a dozen people six figures each. Others have just one paid executive earning $60,000. Either way, when a person donates, some of those dollars go to salaries.
UNC Charlotte professor Alan Freitag knows that might not sit well with donors.
"Perceptions matter -- even perceptions that might be misinterpreted or even wrong. They're still perceptions, and the nonprofits need to be aware of this," Freitag said.
Eyewitness News reporter Jason Stoogenke researched 15 of the most well-known nonprofits in the Charlotte area and compared their latest IRS forms.
Samaritan's Purse paid its leaders the most. Twelve people made six-figure salaries. Franklin Graham topped the list at $561,000 last year.
Nonprofit revenue and top executive pay
But the group also raised the most money of all nonprofits with $373 million -- almost double the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department's annual budget.
"Our goal is to raise as much money as possible (and) to be involved in as many disaster situations around the world as possible, and it takes a talented team of people," said Mark Demoss, who handles public relations for Samaritan's Purse.
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, a relative of Samaritan's Purse, had the second highest revenue -- $91 million last year -- but the pay for its top executive was fourth on the salary list at $260,000.
Two years ago, Eyewitness News reported another big operation, the YMCA, was paying CEO Andy Calhoun almost $400,000 each year, not including benefits. The organization dropped his base salary the following year by $100,000, but last year's records show he is earning $362,000 before benefits.
Barnes Haupfuhrer is one of the people who decide how much to pay Calhoun.
"It's an important organization, and you have to have the right leadership if you're going to deliver the right mission," he said.
The United Way also took heat for what it gave former executive director Gloria Pace King. Now, the group spends $142,000 on its new leader, which is hundreds of thousands of dollars less than King earned.
Second Harvest Food Bank raised almost double what the United Way raised, but pays its executive director, Kay Carter, several thousand dollars less than her United Way counterpart.
Second Harvest does not have a development director. Carter does both jobs.
But whether the money is well spent, Freitag said charities can have a hard time convincing donors to give, even if a small part of their checks end up in executives' pockets.
"They need to be very, very concerned about everything -- the perception of everything they do," he said.
A number of the nonprofits said they have special committees to determine executive salaries. They pointed out that some nonprofits function like big corporations, with multiple locations and hundreds of employees, so they have to pay more to get qualified leaders.