Former Providence Journal editorial page editor Robert Whitcomb raises an area of perpetual misperception in his latest GoLocalProv column:
The nearly $300,000 in compensation that Rhode Island gubernatorial candidate Matt Brown drew as head of a small anti-nuclear-proliferation nonprofit called Global Zero ($2 million-a-year budget) reminds me of how much many execs of many small nonprofits expect to earn these days. It used to be that most people running nonprofits expected to be paid modestly, with as much money as possible going into an organization’s direct programs. Nonprofit executives took lower pay than they could get in private business in return for the satisfactions of public service. Indeed, we used to have “dollar-a-year men’’ – people with personal wealth who were willing to run nonprofits or some government operations basically for free.
But now many nonprofit boards – including those of schools — feel that they must pay their executives compensation similar to that of profitable businesses. And their executives aren’t embarrassed to take it. For example, consider that many small private schools pay their heads hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, along with free housing and other perks.
I remember being shocked years back when I began to learn how lucrative working for non-profits could be. (Unfortunately, not including my own!) People still have this notion that non-profits are essentially charitable enterprises that compensate their employees in large part through their sense of purpose.
A number of these clichés persist, like the college professor’s being a modestly paid entry into higher society or school teachers being lamentably paid. In those cases, the unionization of the latter half of the last century changed the reality, at least for government employees, and when it comes to non-profits those working on public policy — that is, connected indirectly to government’s activities — tend to be particularly well paid.