Women chief executives earn an average of £41,730, compared with their male counterparts who earn £47,700, the survey shows. It will be published on 22 October. The pay gap is 14 per cent compared with 23 per cent last year.
Men still dominate the larger charities. Of the 39 charities with an income above £15 million which responded to the survey, 31 are led by men, while just eight have female chief executives. In charities with an income above £25 million, however, the few women who have made it to the top job actually earn more than their male counterparts.
The gender pay gap is reinforced at senior management level. A female deputy chief executives earns on average £10,000 less than a male. There are actually more women fundraising directors at charities with an income above £25 million but they earn an average of £47,500 compared with £62,500 for men.
Julie Mellor, chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission, said: "It's great news that the pay gap between male and female chief executives in the third sector has narrowed. We hope that the sector will now look at why women at senior levels are still routinely paid less than men. For organisations to be sure that they are paying all their employees fairly, they have to review their pay structures and systems. This sector cannot afford simply to opt out of doing pay reviews - in a competitive market for talented people, all organisations have to pay all their staff a fair wage."
Debra Allcock Tyler, chief executive of the Directory of Social Change, said the survey prompted the need for more research to look at the reasons for the pay gap between men and women.
"Nearly all surveys like this fail to tackle the question of why,
she said. "Are women more modest? Are men greedier? What's the role of trustees in setting pay? There is also an assumption that women should be paid more to narrow the gap. But some of the chief executive salaries aren't bad at all. Why shouldn't men be paid less?"
The gulf between charity chief executives and their private-sector counterparts remains large, especially at charities with income above £25 million.
Charities in this bracket pay their chief executives on average £75,000 compared with £98,000 in commercial organisations of the same size - a differential of 30.7 per cent. However, voluntary-sector chief executives in organisations with income between £250,000 and £1 million are better off than their private-sector equivalents, earning £36,050 compared with £35,500.
The survey also shows that voluntary-sector chief executives routinely earn £30,000 to £40,000 less than chief executives in local government.
The gap is widest in the South East - £42,500 to £82,455 - and smallest in the North East - £40,000 to £64,683.
According to the survey, only 24.1 per cent of chief executives had their salary determined on the basis of an appraisal.
Why women still lag behind in the pay stakes; News in Focus, p10.