Maybe I Should Have Held Out For A House, Too

For Purpose Law Group posted the second installment of their “Nonprofits: What Not To Do,” series yesterday. The first installment dealt with the infamous Indianapolis Museum of Art job posting for a director who would help the organization continue to serve its “core white audience,” along with some other questionable decisions organizations have made.

This most recent post deals with creating prudent safeguards in executive compensation practices. It put me in mind of Drew McManus’ annual Orchestra Compensation Reports series which examines compensation for concert masters, music directors and executives.

In the most recent posting by For Purpose, they discuss how the board of the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) wanted their new executive director to live closer to the facility than Manhattan and so offered a housing bonus of $968,000 so she could purchase a home nearby. This being NYC real estate, the bonus only covered half the cost of the house, but it is still a pretty dang good down payment. Since there were no provisions made regarding the house or repayment of the bonus should the executive director resign or be fired, when she did leave the organization six years later, she retained the house.

While the previous executive director being with the organization for 36 years, 16 as executive director, may have created high expectations for the new exec’s longevity in the mind of the board members, For Purpose writes the board should considered that eventuality.

Not to mention that knowledge of such preferential arrangements can impact morale among other staff in the organization, something the pandemic only exacerbated at BAM:

This scrutiny has also arisen amidst the background of severe fiscal carnage due to the pandemic; BAM lost millions. It had to “cease live programming, lay off or furlough staff and dip into endowments.”

And there was staff grumbling all along. “To be in an all-staff meeting where we were hearing so much about capital projects and how grateful Katy was to be able to walk to work was very disheartening,” said a former education coordinator. “It made a lot of us question the austerity we saw in other parts of the institution.”

It is likely that CEO compensation practices in the commercial sector influenced the board of an organization based in a world financial capital. However, there are different standards and levels of scrutiny accorded to non-profit orgs. The For Purpose Law article lists a number of resources boards can use to establish compensation standards. If you have questions, pop over and take a look.

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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