Salary Benchmarking Across the Sector

Over the past two years Smart Thinking has hosted many hundreds of job adverts ranging from internships all the way up to director-level. One of the main considerations for people looking for a new job, however, is salary. Nowadays most recruiters will specify salary or salary range on an advert to help people in their search. We have been collating that information to give our audience a better understanding of what salary they can expect for different types of jobs and at various levels of seniority.

All data referenced below is from job adverts placed in 2021.

The policy sector has a number of different types of organisations with similar functions to traditional think tanks such as research and communications. Many people who have worked in think tanks go onto similar roles but in different types of organisations. We have a range of organisations that advertise with Smart Thinking, and we have categorised those into 7 classes and looked at the average salary across type of role and across seniority. While there is some difference between organisations, they tend to coalesce around the high 30s/low 40s mark. The outliers are public affairs with a £32k average annual salary and research organisations (non-think tanks) at £49k.


As those who work in the sector know there are many different roles in the policy sector. While policy and research are the most popular posts on the site (59% of job adverts posted on Smart Thinking Jobs in 2021 were for research or policy roles) other important functions include communications, events, operations and fundraising.

Maybe surprisingly, both operations and fundraising had average salaries slightly higher than the research average salary at £44k and £42k respectively. This, however, could be because, particularly for operations roles, there is often a need for a specialist e.g., a finance manager and so they tend to be pitched at a higher level. Events are the worst paid. One possible reason could be because there are fewer senior roles in this function compared to the others.


Further analysis of different job types shows that the majority of salaries in the research function cluster between £30 – 49k. For operations, they cluster in the £30 – 39k bracket, which is the same for communications.


In terms of seniority, there is a clear range from assistants at the bottom up to director level, but it is not too vast. To complete our analysis on roles by seniority we broke down all job titles into key words and then organised them into categories. For example, for researcher we included all job titles with the key words researcher, analyst and fellow in them. Likewise, all titles with the word ‘senior’ whether that was ‘Senior Researcher’ ‘Senior Analyst’, or ‘Senior Manager’ were grouped together.

While the average salary ranges from £28k for an assistant through to £54k for a director/lead/head there was little variation between manager and senior and no difference between officer and assistant.


To further the analysis and provide as much information for those at a more junior level we then combined all the researcher and officer level roles across functions to give a breakdown of what salary to expect as a more junior member of staff.

Research was the best paid at £33k on average with fundraising and events the least well paid.


For all those looking for a role these numbers are averages. The range can be large. Researcher/officer roles went from 18k to £50k, often dependent on experience. It also depended on the size of the recruiting organisation as those with larger teams tend to have bigger budgets.

One final note on internships; nearly all internships are now paid with the majority advertised on the site paying the Living Wage.

Join our mailing list for all the latest jobs and internships direct to your inbox

You may be interested in…