No gossip column on 990s can omit the juicy topic of what we’re all getting paid.
The 990 tracks highest paid compensation in two places – Part VII, Line 1d on the main form and also Schedule J (There are 16 additional schedules that can accompany the main form and sometimes this is where the bodies are buried.)
There are two ways to examine the data.
- What did the highest paid staff member receive?
- What percentage of the total compensation expense (Part I, Line 15) are the Highest Compensated Employees taking?
Let’s start with the highest compensated in $ even though the percentage of total compensation by percentage may not be unusual.
- Leadership of universities/medical facilities and private schools for the wealthy are routinely given higher salary in lieu of stock options. The theory is high leadership skill is required but leaders could also make more in the for-profit corporations with stock options as incentives. The eye popping salaries are a replacement for the stock and other incentives to be made at Apple, GE, and IBM.
- Higher pay can be concealed by Part VII Section A Column F – Other related organizations. While I have an upcoming look at nonprofit captive corporations, some midmarket nonprofits with financial sophistication use this column to add an extra $50,000 to the executive compensation. Wish I worked there 🙂
- Guidestar publishes an annual compensation report. For example, the CEO in Sacramento for a nonprofit should make approximately $54,000 if the total revenue is less than $500,000; $112,000 if the total revenue is less than $1 million. $130,000 if the total revenue is less than $5 million, and $175,000 at greater than $5 million revenue. These numbers strike many Boards as generous, but Guidestar is watching all of these clever add ons and reporting them. Why should you settle for less than fair? (Guidestar, 2017:208)
Let’s continue with the underpaid!
- Leadership compensation by percentage of total compensation is how much the Board thinks that the leadership is worth. An agency of $6+ million should expect that leadership compensation will absorb 3-5% of total compensation.
- Since ill-equipped leadership will never get the nonprofit to $6 million in revenue, small organizations may experience 6-12% of total compensation for leadership costs. Boards have to pay in advance of the larger size that good leadership can provide. It’s necessary pain of investment!
- If you are in a $500,000 revenue organization, be careful not to overvalue the ED job. Let’s use the Sacramento example and your compensation should be $54,000. Because the company is small, your job may also include clerical for 25% of the time and program meetings for 25%. Those two compensations for full-time work are $30,000 and $40,000.
So your total compensation would be
- 50% ED – $27,000 (54,000*.5)
- 25% Clerical – $7,500 (30,000*.25)
- 25% Program – $10,000 (40,000*.25)
- TOTAL $42,500
- I’ve also seen another nonprofit with $18 million in revenue and 1% in Highest Compensated Staff. While I applaud the benefits that staff receive in pension and health, it appears that they are risking a loss of leadership when managers go to a convention and chat about salaries. (People gossip at conventions! ). Poor Board leadership.
Let’s finally think about the overpaid
- I’m looking at a $7 million revenue organization with compensation requiring about 16% of the total compensation budget. That is leadership that has the board in their pocket!
- I’m also looking at a medical nonprofit that has been in the news for fraud charges. There is $2.5 million in compensation from related organizations – for 2 people.
Board of Directors should structure compensation to be generous to leadership and expect high results in return. Small agencies must suffer with tight budgets until total revenue approaches $6+ million. Boards should work with Executive Directors/CEO so that most of their time is spent in leadership. Mixing job descriptions will never produce great results in lives of clients. At the same time, there are ceilings to compensation for highest paid employees. With the 990, we can see where an agency is on the continuum.
The CEO/ED job is challenging. A business coach can help and contact me if you need support to go through this process.