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.

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“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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