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Top Earner At Autism Speaks Paid More Than $600,000


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Autism Speaks took in more than $69 million last year, over $600,000 of which was paid to a single executive, recently released tax filings indicate.

The organization’s chief science officer, Geri Dawson, received $669,751 in total compensation in 2008 including $269,721 in relocation expenses to move her family from Washington to North Carolina, according to Autism Speaks’ tax filing.

Dawson’s base salary was $373,360, more than any of the organization’s 257 other employees, including Autism Speaks president Mark Roithmayr. Employee compensation accounted for more than a quarter of Autism Speaks’ income for the year.

“Dr. Dawson’s compensation is in the mid-range for executives with similar positions in the nonprofit health sector,” Autism Speaks representatives said in a statement. They went on to explain Dawson’s cross-country moving expenses by saying that her presence on the east coast makes her more accessible to Autism Speaks offices, three of its science divisions and government health agencies in Washington, D.C.

The move also allowed Dawson to take a position at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Nonprofit salaries range wildly, experts say, but must be based on the salaries of others in similar positions at comparable organizations in order to meet Internal Revenue Service standards.

“There’s no one answer for what is appropriate compensation,” says Suzanne Coffman, director of communications for Guidestar, which operates a database of nonprofit organizations’ financial information. “You’ll find at universities that the football coach makes more than the president and at hospitals you’ll have physicians who make more than the CEO.”

Overall, Autism Speaks, the nation’s largest autism advocacy organization, took in more than $69 million last year, over $20 million more than it did the previous year. In turn, the organization provided over $27 million in grants.

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Comments (8 Responses)

  1. jackie callahan says:


  2. megbanas says:

    As a Mother of an Autistic Child and someone who has worked closely in the non-profit sector, I believe that these people deserve every single dime they’ve been paid.
    Charity work is not a walk in the park. It takes dedication, time and a ton of effort!
    We should focus on the $69 million dollars that was generated by these hard workers instead of their paychecks.
    The Red Cross pays out 55% of their proceeds to their own people, leaving only 45% going their charitable causes. Now that is overboard!
    So what if this man makes a good living? He’s helping people through his hard work, and to me, that’s worth every dime! We have no problem paying professional athletes millions, but someone goes out and raises millions of dollars to help others and people want to complain? Give me a break!
    If you don’t think he should be making this money…I challenge you to do it for nothing! I don’t think I’ll have any takers on that one…not any that will generate $69 million in one year.
    So, stop complaining and be gratefull that people like Geri Dawson are working hard to make life for our children better!

  3. jdfeder says:

    Autism Speaks is so large and,like other big non-profits, requires very competent staff to run it. If Dr. Dawson is running the organization and creating the amazing contributions, it should be no surprise that she is getting compensated like other people who head big non-profits.

    Non-profits sit in a place between government programs where salaries are small and fixed and efforts are directed toward all citizens, and private for profit corporations where every activity must be geared toward making money for the owners. These are, in both cases, fiduciary responsibilities. Non-profits receive tax exempt status because they are geared toward the public good – not exclusively for all citizens but that is their general purpose – and all monies go toward publicly minded activities, not toward profits for the people running it.

    Most people who work the day to day jobs at non-profits give up getting as good a salary as in for-profit industry with the understanding that they are committed to the cause and money is needed for the cause. But for a big non-profit corporation, it is understandable and common that sometimes to get the best people you need to pay competitive salaries, as long as there is no other conflict of interest, such as officers directing donated funds to their own private corporations or research programs, especially without oversight and transparency.

    Autism Speaks has used its funds very effectively to promote treatment programs and to get legislation passed in many states to support Autism treatment. I think there is some brewing concern about the transparency of the specific treatments that they promote, or perhaps the awareness of current research on treatment, as much of the treatment they promote helps a narrow band of behavioral providers and may reduce parent choice and availability of other equally evidence based approaches, e.g., developmental and naturalistic approaches. The explanation is apparently one of ‘let’s get the door opened and then add other choices as appropriate’, however the impact hampers the advancement of treatment. So, does this constitute a conflict of their non-profit charter? Some think so, and if so then perhaps it is worth a look at the connections between Autism Speaks and the entities that stand to benefit from their work.

    Autism Speaks clearly leads the US in promoting Autism treatment, and as long as the non-profit is in fact meeting it’s fiduciary responsibility to serve the public without such conflict of interest, then $800,000 in compensation for $20m increase in funding is of little concern.

    J Feder MD
    Profession and Parent

  4. Star says:

    Funny, because I am an autistic who is working very, very hard (365 days a year, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week) to promote Autism awareness, autism rights, and even charity for autism, but I am NOT BEING PAID AT ALL!!!

    How come and you find Autism Speaks’ income righteous and proper? How come and you accept their “terror” tactics that include videos like the last disgrace called “I am Autism” that is used to spread fear and anquish, or better said, to abuse the existing fear and anquish that parents feel when they are given the autism diagnosis of their child or children, for their organization’s financial benefit?

    From the $69 million they made just $27 went to so called research… (to research what? We all now that autism is genetic and has no cure) but where did the rest go??? Where did $42 million go? Huh? Any ideas? My feeling is into private pockets and they were not even private pockets of autistics!

    So, how can you support such practices instead of condeming them and demanding that the millions of dollars that Autism Speaks makes be given ALL to families of autistic kids, be given to autistic adults to better their daily lives, be given towards free education in colleges and universities for autistic teenagers and young adults, be given to create work places for autistics…

    How can you accept such practices that edge racism and discrimination against autism covered under a cloak of smoke that is called “charity”!!! How can you be so ignorant, so naive, and so brainwashed by such actions which when they were used some 70 years ago in Nazi Germany we called them fascist propaganda!

    Wake up people. Truly wake up and see what is going on. Before it is too late for thousands and thousands of autistic children worldwide!

    Perla Messina
    Association of Greek Autistic Adults

  5. boey says:

    $69 million came from donations people!!! Not from these people doing hard work! It’s we parents and our children that are doing the hard work to better our children’s lives!!! $69 million and only 27 went to so called research? Where is the rest and better yet look at the crap so-called research they fund!! Autism speaks has never done one thing to help me or my children!!! They give no grants to families!!! They fund no therapies!! They are taking our hard earned money and paying salaries of over $200,000/yr to execs while we struggle to feed and take care of our children!!!!! Take off the blinders!!!!

  6. Scott Lederman says:

    OK so if I did the math correctly for the 2008 year. They raised $69 mil. spent 27mil on grants and 1/4 of 69 mil for Employee Compensation. So what about the other 25million? Where does that money go?

  7. Lucy says:

    Which means that, despite it’s 27MM in grants, Autism Speaks spends 42MM in pure pork. What a waste.

    Almost as bad (if not worse!) than the US Government.

  8. Gina Hartman says:

    We walked the autism walk June 1st in Pittsburgh, we worked our butts off trying to raise money, little did I know your ceo receives $600,000 salary, don’t you think that is a little high, you are taking advantage of the poor children with autism, I can understand a decent salary, I wonder how many walking or contributing makes half that salary. Why don’t we think of these poor children, not greed. How many children could this money help.

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