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)
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.
Why would you buy a truck or a bus for your company and fail to use it? Why would you hire a new accountant and fail to use her? We are supposed to buy fixed assets and employ people and get more money back than we spent. Nonprofits will focus on social impact as well as cash. That’s fine but some nonprofits find it easy to spend other people’s money for things of little value.
The 990 tells whether assets are being purchased or employed wisely.
Each industry has its own range of the dollars returned in profit divided by the Assets. For profit education companies average 5%. The beverage industry is 9%.
The nonprofits studied have a return of assets of about 3%. That means that each $100 of investment in assets returns about $3 in profit. That is a lot lower than the industry ranges mentioned above because the corporate tax rate has been 35%! It’s fair to say that nonprofits actually do divert resources to the social sector that are returned in some other metric.
Two concerns emerge:
Nonprofits that are less than 10 years old have a return on assets in the 20% range. Since they are probably carrying fixed assets with little accumulated depreciation – why are they so much more effective in acquiring assets that actually return the cost of investment? Are newer nonprofits born in a more competitive time in the nonprofit industry and will be stronger structurally?
The historic nonprofits over 25 years old show returns as low as 3%. If they own heavily depreciated buildings or other long term assets, their return of 3% may be inflated. It could be closer to 0%.
In a post-industrial age, the real asset of any company is the compensation budget and the human resource that it represents. One way to measure effective hiring is to relate the total revenue to the dollars spent on compensation. If you hire a new staff member for $100,000, it’s clear that you have to raise at least $100,000 more in revenue to support the position. The labor efficiency ratio is usually between 2 and 7, depending on industry.
The formula used in the study is total revenue / total compensation.
Nonprofits are low, regardless of size.
Some of the lowest include nonprofits in existence for 25+ years that have limited federal funds. For example, one reported an average of 1.26 over four years. This means that only 26 cents were left after payroll for rent, materials, food, office, etc. An overemphasis on payroll indicates poor program quality.
The lowest reported (1.22) was family operated which probably means that they drain the nonprofit of cash by paying three sisters in management very well. Since it’s a special needs daycare, I pity the recipients of the services.
Regulated nonprofits (child care) will have lower labor efficiency ratios because of required staffing and credentials. Companies such as McDonald’s have few staff requirements other than the practical matter of getting hot food to customers quickly.
New nonprofits (under 10 years) tend to produce more money per staff member hired and spend more money on program (labor efficiency ratio of 1.7 – 2). This doesn’t mean that they pay staff poorly – they have enough money to do everything
Nonprofits with growth rates of 20%+ per year have labor efficiency ratios of 1.5 – 2. This seems reasonable. They are saving money for program and rent. They have budget balance.
A labor efficiency ratio under 1.4 is a danger signal. The income may be critically lacking for required infrastructure. There may be undue influence of board or management to drain resources. Accrediting and regulatory agencies should measure program quality carefully.
The only way for nonprofits to serve and succeed in mission is through wise use of assets. When the financial return on assets is too low, it will reduce cash and destabilize the nonprofit. Older nonprofits generally seem to need more business training to approach 5% or more return on assets.
Labor efficiency is a critical asset because almost all companies spend most of their budget on payroll. When a budget is set up with less than $1.40 coming back in cash for every $1.00 spent on payroll, there is not enough money left to pay rent, insurance, and program supplies.
Younger nonprofits appear to be more nimble. They are less burdened with nonproductive assets and save enough money (aside from payroll) to finance quality program supplies and infrastructure.
Success = monitoring return on assets and labor efficiency.