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A nonprofit that pays big

November 07, 2009

Re "Nonprofit makes its owners wealthy," Nov. 2

I hope your readers will not paint all nonprofits with a broad brush following the news article about the salaries Social Vocational Services pays its executives. This is an extremely unusual situation.

My employer for almost 15 years now, OPARC, also serves adults with developmental disabilities, with a budget of about $10 million annually. OPARC spends less than 13% of its total resources on all administrative and fundraising activities combined.

From my experience -- more than 25 years in the nonprofit world -- most of the people working for nonprofit agencies in social services fields sacrifice some compensation for the opportunity to do something they consider to be exceptionally meaningful.

I have two master's degrees and a doctorate in clinical psychology, and as OPARC's chief executive, I earn a small fraction of what the Dawsons receive.

While naturally I'd like to earn more, I consider the compensation reasonable and adequate in light of the funding that is available, and the job itself provides a great deal of emotional fulfillment.

Ronald P. Wolff

Claremont

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Excessive compensation at not-for-profits is a subset of excessive corporate compensation in general.

Often, consultants are involved. They are hired to immunize boards of directors against claims of failure of duty, and they actually end up transmitting the disease of overcompensation to their clients.

It is hard to see what would cure the problem. In the not-for-profit world, government officials police unreasonable compensation, but it is difficult to refute a consultant's report. That's the immunity part.

And consultants will always come in high, if they want to be hired again. That's the infection vector. The same cycle occurs at for-profit corporations. The consultants grow richer from the epidemic they propagate.

So far, no one has devised a cure that isn't worse than the disease. In the for-profit context, a new tax bracket for super-high wages seems palliative (but shareholders will still lose). For nonprofits, it may take a paradigm shift away from the marketplace for wages -- but then, isn't that what charities are supposed to be all about?

Jonathan D. Kaufelt

Santa Monica

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It is instructive to understand that in the system of care for the developmentally disabled, this sort of thing occurs.

Our son was served by Social Vocational Services for a number of years, and we considered the help and support he received as only adequate. The people who actually give the hands-on service are underpaid for the responsibilities they have and the care they give.

In spite of the "risk" they took, it looks like the Dawsons have learned to game the system fairly well. Thanks to The Times for the investigative reporting.

Estabrook Glosser Jr.

San Gabriel

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