Are Gov’t Caps of Non-Profit Salaries On Horizon?

The Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) notes that the governor of New Jersey has placed salary caps on non profit executives who do business with the state and the governor of New York has started a non profit salary review.

While governments have a right to be concerned over non profit scandals and society might properly have an expectation that a good portion of the funding going to a non-profit organization will be directed toward serving the appropriate segments of the community, there is a inequality in the expectations. In an article linked in the SSIR blog, Doug Sauer, CEO of the New York Council of Nonprofits notes,

““The State government contracts to buy services from nonprofits just as it contracts with the for-profit sector; except that the nonprofit is often expected to unfairly perform at below the actual cost of doing business. Perhaps it is also time to order an extensive review of the executive compensation of ‘taxpayer supported for-profit businesses’.”

Additionally, John Brothers notes in the SSIR blog post that most non-profit executives don’t even approach the $141,000 cap that NJ is imposing.

“According to the 2010 Guidestar Compensation Study, human service executives earned a median annual pay of just over $122K. What is more interesting is that of the over 3,000 nonprofits surveyed, just 0.004% earned more than a million dollars and only 4 percent earned more than $500K, with sizes of organizations peaking in the multi-billions. I would say that this is hardly a national epidemic of nonprofit jet-setting executives.”

You may look at these stories and think that they only apply to social/human service organizations. However, Gov. Cuomo of NY doesn’t make as clear a distinction regarding those organizations that NJ does. While the initial round of inquiry letters went to social service organizations, the fact the NY governor said all non-profits receiving state funding will be reviewed raised the question,

“Does this mean that the task force will examine compensation at hospitals and other health care providers – where CEO salaries of $1 million or more are not uncommon? What about major arts organizations and institutions of higher learning where that is also true?”

This move to evaluate non-profit salaries provides a potential avenue for those who oppose the funding of arts and culture. Lacking the ability to accuse artistic content of being obscene, they can seek to limit funding to organizations whose compensation is perceived to be excessive.

Fortunately, there are a number of objective measures and loads of data one can employ to prove compensation is fair. This situation underscores the need for non-profits to become better organized to advocate for themselves before it comes to that though.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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