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The Times
  • Big pay at local nonprofits

  • Managing nearly $150 million in revenue. Overseeing almost 650 employees. Ensuring that about 1,820 students get the best education.

    Hamilton College President Joan H. Stewart’s responsibilities aren’t simple.

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    Managing nearly $150 million in revenue. Overseeing almost 650 employees. Ensuring that about 1,820 students get the best education.
    Hamilton College President Joan H. Stewart’s responsibilities aren’t simple.
    “My days vary in length so dramatically,” said Stewart, who took over the top role at the college in 2003. “My days are like accordions.”
    In exchange, Stewart earned an annual base salary of $427,704 in 2011 — making her the highest paid head of an area nonprofit organization.
    And she isn’t the only one pulling in big money: A review found that half of the 61 top executives at local nonprofits with revenues of more than $1 million had salaries surpassing $100,000 in 2011, the most recent year the information was available through the IRS. Ten of them were earning more than $200,000.
    And that’s just the base salary in a compensation package that often includes many other perks such as car and housing allowances.
    Rounding out the top five in 2011 were:
    • Faxton St. Luke’s Healthcare President and CEO Scott Perra: $426,500.
    • St. Elizabeth Medical Center CEO Richard Ketcham: $341,443.
    • Masonic Medical Research Laboratory Executive Director Charles Antzelevitch: $307,000.
    • Charles T. Sitrin Health Care Center President and CEO Richard Wilson: $286,886.
    As the Governor’s Office plans salary caps of $199,000 for executives of organizations that receive more than $500,000 in state funding each year and receive at least 30 percent of their annual funding from the state, the question becomes: How much is too much for nonprofit executives?
    With long hours, budgets and more than just your handful of employees to oversee, top executives and board members say that their top salaries correspond with the job description. Yet, others say nonprofit leaders can be expected to lead by example and focus on the public good, which might mean a lower salary.
    There’s really no right answer, said Thomas Pollak, program director for the National Center for Charitable Statistics at the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C.
    “It’s important to make sure you have an executive who will lead (the institution) in the best way he or she knows how,” he said. “The flipside of that, I think there are a lot of people who argue that the nonprofit sector should have a distinctive role in society.”
    ‘Around-the-clock responsibility’
    Elizabeth Boris, director of the Center of Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the Urban Institute, said more often than not, executives who come out on the top of the pay scale are from health care or education institutions.
    “If you’re running a university that has 25,000 students, multiple buildings and a medical school, that’s a very different job than running a local soup kitchen or homeless shelter,” she said. “That’s the context.”
    For these leaders, this rarely means a 9 to 5 day.
    Page 2 of 2 - That responsibility ranges from dealing with physician recruitment to flipping burgers for employee appreciation events at both lunchtime and midnight on the same day, Ketcham said.
    Faxton-St. Luke’s Perra agreed.
    “Hospitals don’t close. We’re open 24/7,” he said. “It’s just been an around-the-clock responsibility.”
    These positions also mean extensive schooling: Perra and St. Elizabeth’s Ketcham have master’s degrees in business administration. Hamilton’s Stewart earned a doctorate in French literature and was the first in her family to go on to higher education.
    For Stewart, that education has provided her with a very broad-based preparation for a task where she’s always interacting with others.
    “I meet all kinds of people: wonderful people, challenging people, occasionally difficult people,” she said. “A liberal arts education has prepared me to listen very carefully to people.”
    Determining the salary
    The average chief executive salary for all organizations — both for-profit and nonprofit — in the six-county Mohawk Valley region is $133,850, according to the Occupational Employment Statistics Survey from the state Department of Labor. The average salary for all workers in the area is $39,820.
    When choosing an executive, nonprofit organizations go through an IRS process that requires them to do a comparable salary analysis of similar organizations.
    “Obviously, this is a critical process that the board takes very seriously,” said Richard Tantillo, chairman of the Executive Compensation Committee for Faxton-St. Luke’s.
    He said they work with firms that bring in information on other health care organizations of similar size and geographic locations.
    “It’s a business and industry that requires the attitude of being in a team sport — to have a superb coach and quarterback in the helm,” Tantillo said. “Frankly, I think that our CEO is worth every appropriate investment. … It’s a fair and just wage.”
    A competitive salary means the ability to draw the best person for the job, said Bob Delaney, chairman of Hamilton College’s Audit Committee and a member of the Compensation Committee.
    “The president of a college or university has many different hats that they wear,” Delaney said. “When you do those searches, you have to put forward a salary that appears competitive with other similar institutions; otherwise, you’re not going to attract the top candidates.”
    Delaney also pointed out that taking a slightly lower pay doesn’t make a significant dent when it comes to revenues.
    “With over $100 million in revenue and over $1 billion in assets, cutting back the president’s salary a little bit — I’m not saying it would be meaningless, but it wouldn’t change the institution in any fundamental way,” he said. “Philosophically in a nonprofit institution, $427,000 is a lot of money. Is that commensurate with the contribution that person is making? I would say it absolutely is.”

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