Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Nonprofit Salaries Draw Scrutiny from States and Federal Government

The NY Times reported that State and federal officials are starting to take their knives to the pay of leaders of nonprofit groups they do business with to help share the pain of tighter budgets.

A provision in New Jersey’s recently passed budget, for example, includes a limit on what nonprofit groups can pay their chief executives if they are providing social services under state contracts. The cap, based on a formula that also applies to for-profits providing such services on behalf of the state, is part of a broader effort by Gov. Chris Christie to rein in salaries on state workers.

In New Hampshire, Attorney General Michael A. Delaney is investigating compensation among nonprofit hospital executives. And Vermont legislators are trying various ways of curbing salaries paid by nonprofit groups that have contracts with the state.

On Capitol Hill, four senators this spring refused to approve a $425 million package of federal grants for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America after staff members looked at the organization’s tax forms as part of a routine vetting process and were surprised to learn that the organization paid its chief executive almost $1 million in 2008 — $510,774 in salary and bonus and $477,817 in retirement and other benefits.

“A nearly $1 million salary and benefit package for a nonprofit executive is not only questionable on its face but also raises questions about how the organization manages its finances in other areas,” said Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma.

Another senator, Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, has told Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner that he is concerned that the Internal Revenue Service is not tough enough in policing pay in the nonprofit sector and that regulations governing compensation are too weak.

“I’ve asked him to review these regulations to see how they can be made effective,” Mr. Grassley said. “What’s there now doesn’t seem to be working.”

Mr. Grassley, who has used his seat on the Finance Committee to scrutinize a wide variety of nonprofit practices, noted that pay had been a “major issue” in his reviews over the last several years of universities, charitable hospitals and the Smithsonian Institution.

Compensation has long been a point of controversy among donors to nonprofits. By far the biggest category of complaints posted on the Web site of Charity Navigator, which offers research and analysis of nonprofit groups, involves complaints about pay. Read more here, especially for the other perspective offered by some nonprofit EDs.