How Much Is Too Much?

In the last week, two separate reporting pieces have been printed about the compensation of North Carolina nonprofit executives. On Friday, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported on the CEO and other executive pay of the Carolinas Healthcare System (with hat tip to the Charlotte Observer), which oversees the work of 38 hospitals in North and South Carolina. The salary and bonuses topped out at $4.75 million, with nine other executives making over $1 million.

In today’s edition of the Raleigh based News & Observer issued a story on the executive pay of the husband and wife leaders of Goodwill Community Foundation in NC, a combined $800,000. The Foundation oversees 36 stores in North Carolina, mainly in the central and eastern counties of the state.

Both organizations are nonprofits and file as such with the IRS and NC Secretary of State.

These articles should be a wake up call to the nonprofit sector: we are not immune to the mistrust of the public we serve in conversations of obscene wealth. Private sector institutions such as banks learned this lesson during the beginning of the Great Recession, and have permanently damaged their brand because of the out of control “earned” salaries of CEOs and Presidents.

The reality of these salaries for such few individuals at very large nonprofits should begin a conversation within the public sector: How much is too much pay at a nonprofit?

Are we to be blind to the populations that we serve? Should our competitive salaries be compared to private sector jobs? Even if an individual earns that level of pay, does our work set up a double standard for being paid that much when our collective mission is social change, not fiscal bottom lines for individuals? If work is so demanding, are the efforts of an organization in the right place?

Every few months investigative journalism leads us to these “bombshells” of salary discovery. And every few months the sector and public forget about it. However leadership and national organizations should promote conversations over this topic, and approach it bluntly. The pain of the truthful talks will be worth it in the long haul, especially if we have to overcome the public’s perception of some organizations evident in the comments online.

What do you think? How much is too much?

Thoughts?

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