General Question

MagicalMystery's avatar

Do you feel that someone that heads a charitable organization should not make a huge salary?

Asked by MagicalMystery (900points) May 28th, 2010

i was on a website called Charity Navigator, where you can see the financial information of charities that interest you. i see that the Susan Komen Breast Cancer Foundation (not sure if that’s the exact name of it but the very popular pink ribbon is the logo) is headed by someone who makes about $500,000 annually. PETA’s Ingrid Newkirk makes about $40 or $50,000, by contrast. Not getting into any mudslinging about PETA or Ingrid Newkirk or her tactics (personally i like them but i know many people do not) does it bother you if you donate money to a charity where the President or whatever their title is makes a huge salary? or do you feel the salaries are justified, because there is a lot of work involved heading a large corporation, and charity or not, they should be paid accordingly?

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33 Answers

Seek's avatar

Well, I think of it like this: $500,000 is enough money to solve every single problem I currently have. All of them. And I’d still have enough money left over to buy a ton of shit I don’t need.

I don’t think anyone needs that much money in a single year. But, if people are giving to the charity regardless of what is done with their money, who is really to blame?

It’s very simple: if you don’t agree with their practices – stop giving them money. Then they’ll go away.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

I wonder if such a high salary is necessary to attract and retain someone sufficiently skillful and committed.

When charities become like big corporations, I worry that too much of the donations fail to reach those for whom the donors sent their money. Administrators don’t do the Cancer Research or directly benefit those suffering from the disease. Overhead must be kept as low as possible while still attracting and properly distribution the monies raised. When overhead exceeds 15%, I am hesitant to support a cause, no matter how noble their aims.

lilikoi's avatar

In dealing with charities, I am very careful about donating money. I work really fucking hard for my money, for one, but more importantly, I don’t want to see the money misused or wasted.

Rather than donate money, I tend to donate time or specific goods. I think this is just as valuable, and this way I know exactly what I’m giving and what they are getting. It’s just much easier to keep track of.

Another thing I do is prefer to support small, local organizations as opposed to large national machines. It’s much easier to get to know an organization that’s in your back yard, you have more say in how things are done, and all of your donation stays in your community.

That said, I believe that people running NPOs should get paid industry competitive salaries. If the position pays pennies, it will be very hard to attract good talent because the best people will have job offers that pay a lot more. Does anyone need to attract $500k/yr talent? I don’t think so. Then again, I see the logo for the SKBF everywhere so someone is doing something right.

As to people that make $500k +/- annually (this is not just for NPO execs but also politicians etc), I simply cannot give money to them or their causes. I am comparatively poor, and quite frankly think that if they really believed in their cause, they’d put most of that money back to it. Me giving money to them is like the rich sucking the poor dry.

As if every other law currently on the books isn’t set up to do that already!

Please, I’m not so dumb as to go and screw myself.

Although there can be personal political reasons why a person makes a donation.

Finally, the more money involved, the greater likelihood it is being wasted IMO.

ubersiren's avatar

That’s one of my favorite sites. It’s very useful. I believe when donating to a charity, our money should go to those in need. Chairmen shouldn’t head charities to become wealthy, they should head them to be, well, charitable. Not saying that he shouldn’t get paid for working a full schedule and dedicating his time and effort to a cause, but some of these heads are making soooo much it’s sickening.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

Without any research on my part into what “Susan G. Komen for the Cure” ( actually does, I suspect that their intent is to channel money into various types of human breast cancer research. (I’m guessing; I really haven’t looked into the website. This is what I would do if I started a foundation to look into the cure for breast cancer, unless I were a researcher already and just wanted to fund my own research.)

So that implies that there’s some kind of study, evaluation of grant requests, and a certain due diligence to expend the money properly, and not just to anyone who wants to feel and look at women’s breasts. (Or lord knows, I could have retired by now. The bitches turn down my requests all the time.)

On the other hand… what does PETA do with the money it receives? It’s not as if they’re terribly interested in researching ways to make your mushroom casserole taste like pot roast, are they? All I’ve ever heard about PETA is “activism”. So maybe they need more money to bail people out of jail, rather than hiring qualified accountants and researchers of their own, and then managing that group.

This is pure speculation on my part about what each organization does.

If anyone is interested in sending me money or photos to help me complete my own research, I can be contacted by PM day or night. Just not too late at night, or too early in the day. Unless they’re particularly enticing…

YARNLADY's avatar

They should get a fair to high amount, but not outrageous. A good leader can be instrumental in bringing in large donations – in the millions, not just you and I. They work from 50 to 80 hours a week, so there should be a good incentive.

It’s not taking away from the needy if their efforts bring in twice or three times what the charity would otherwise get.

perspicacious's avatar

No, I wouldn’t make that blanket statement. Some charities are huge and running them demands talent. The test for me is the percentage of the donated dollar that is NOT used for administrative purposes.

ben's avatar

It’s hard to say definitively that they “should” or “should not”, but I think it certainly reflects a fair bit about the organization.

I don’t think it’s bad to pay competitive salaries at a non-profit—it can lead to better employees and less turnover which ultimately can help an organization far more that low salaries. But there’s a balance, as well.

In the case of SKBC, I think it says a lot. Many people (including me), are deeply opposed to that non-profit, mainly for selling out to companies who make products that contribute to cancer, and taking advantage of many women’s good nature. More info is at

Primobabe's avatar

I spent many years working with exempt organizations. Because of my own experience, I’m extremely cynical and suspicious about charities. They’re not businesses in the true sense, so they’re often very inefficient and poorly run. They can hide enormous financial abuses on their Form 990’s. State attorneys general seldom pursue questionable organizations. Because many charities can have similar or overlapping missions, there’s tremendous redundancy and waste. Every organization has its own staff, overhead, and fundraising expense; a close look at charities might make you a fan of government agencies.

Yes, there are plenty of good charities. Many are staffed by volunteers and spend 100% of their resources to fulfill their missions. But, let the buyer beware…

Primobabe's avatar

Now, I’ll say something good about exempt organizations—if their directors were paid at rates comparable to those paid in the private sector, they’d be earning $20 million plus obscene benefits and exit packages.

mammal's avatar

What’s even more sickening is Cancer is entirely preventable and treatable through simple lifestyle and dietary choices.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

What’s even more sickening is Cancer is entirely preventable and treatable through simple lifestyle and dietary choices.

… and wishful thinking, apparently.

anartist's avatar

It doesn’t look good. Best if a charity CEO is independently wealthy, or at least not struggling to climb an economic ladder and tempted.

CaptainHarley's avatar


I beg to differ. Cancer has multiple sources: genetics, enviornmental, dietary, etc. I have a form of incurable cancer that I got due to my exposure to the defoliant Agent Orange while in Vietnam. I seriously doubt that changing either my lifestyle or diet would have had any impact.

Primobabe's avatar

@CaptainHarley I’m very sorry to hear that.

CaptainHarley's avatar


No biggie, hon. Everyone’s gotta die from something, and I never really expected to live to see my 25th birthday, much less my 67th, so it’s kewl. And I’ve had a great run too! : ))

Thank you for the kindness though. : )

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

No, I don’t think they should make that much money – I don’t think anyone should make that much money, period.

lilikoi's avatar


Apparently you have no idea how many known and probable carcinogens are present in the world today. Even a person who makes perfect lifestyle and dietary choices their entire life can still end up with cancer.


I am very sorry to hear that, too.

Theby's avatar

I think it is unethical for someone who heads a charity to make enormous amounts of money. I would definately not give to a charity where this happens. I do give to a charity called WSPA (World Society for the Protection of Animals.) They let me know just where my money is going and send regular updates. Any charity you give to should have this information available to it’s donors. If they don’t I would not give to them.

josie's avatar

If you think it is too much, don’t donate to the charity. It’s always interesting to listen (or watch) conversations about how much money people should be making, as if there is a secret committee out there that sets everybody’s income. And it seems like most people who think somebody else is making enough, or even too much, would take it a heartbeat if it was offered to them. People are going to be paid pretty much what the people who hire them think they are worth, and not a dime more. If they wind up not being worth it, they will get fired.

LostInParadise's avatar

Rather than concentrate on the salary of the head of a charity, I would be more interested in what percentage of donations is absorbed by the charity. If the charity is large enough then a high salary for the head of it may still be a small percentage of the total amount of donations. I may not be happy that someone working for the charity is making a lot of money, but I would be more concerned about how much of what I donate goes to those who the charity is supposed to be helping.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

My personal thoughts on charities is most of them seem to be a vehicle for creating incomes rather than providing services. If a charity spends ¾ or more on administrative fees then I don’t even consider it a charity anymore. To me, a charity is people volunteering their time and/or money for whatever he charity is.

Primobabe's avatar

@Neizvestnaya I both agree and disagree with you. Smaller charities can be staffed by volunteers and have little-to-no overhead. The larger, national charities, however, have extensive operations and really do need to be staffed and run by professionals.

Having said that, I, too, am fan of smaller organizations. Their numbers may be tiny, but they get the most bang for each buck. Nearly all of their donations are actually used to accomplish charitable causes.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

Surely there are charitable minded professionals who will work for less than $100K a year? I’ve been shown numbers for some in the past where less than 15% of what monies were generated were going to charity recipients.

jca's avatar

@mammal: i am a little confused at “cancer is entirely preventable and treatable through simple lifestyle and dietary choices.” have you ever heard that there is a genetic link for cancer? have you ever heard of someone that did not smoke and yet got lung cancer? have you ever known anybody that lived a simple life and yet still got some kind of cancer? have you ever been to the doctor and he or she asks if there is a history of whatever kind of cancer in your family? have you ever known a woman who did not drink or smoke but who had a family history of breast cancer and got cancer herself?

and then to go on and add that it’s also treatable through simple lifestyle and dietary choices – i guess that has not hit the news yet because i’m sure there are many doctors doing research who would love to know what the simple lifestyle and dietary choices are that can cure cancer, so they could stop doing research on finding a cure. also the people out there with cancer who are undergoing potentially deadly chemo and radiation treatments, tell them what the lifestyle and dietary choices are so they can stop the treatments and change their lifestyles and diets now and become cured.

Primobabe's avatar

@Neizvestnaya Yes, there are plenty of charity employees who earn <$100K. When you add up the total staff payroll, however, the result can be a real eye-opener. I speak from my experience of working for many years with exempt organizations, including a number of public charities.

Here’s one thing that always frustrated me—every staffed charity believes that it needs a full-time accountant, a full-time director of development (fundraising), and a full-time meetings planner. While it’s true that larger charities do have such expansive staffing needs, the smaller charities often don’t. They could easily cover these functions by hiring part-time employees or by outsourcing the work to a support group.

I once held such a job. I was the internal accountant for a trade association and its affiliated charity. I had about 10–15 hours of work to do each week. It took a long time, but I finally convinced my employer to switch my status to part-time and pay me only for actual work done. My employer stubbornly insisted on overpaying me; I had to plead the case that it should find efficiencies and conserve resources. This same organization hosted 2 conferences per year but employed a full-time meetings planner; she spent most of her time reading magazines and making personal phone calls.

mowens's avatar

If it is me, I would demand a huge salary, because you are paying for my experience and ability to run an organization.

Therefore, as a third party I shall do no less than agree with the large salaries.

ubersiren's avatar

@mowens People who donate don’t want to fund your indoor pool and villa in France. They want to send aid directly to the source of the need. I hope those who donate do their research and give money where it is most used for a good cause, and I hope most people who lead these organizations do it for the cause and not the money.

Doctors Without Borders is a great example. Doctors deserve great salaries for the life and death matters they handle and services they provide. But some humble humanitarians want to do actual good in the world, not just make the dough. Those are the kind of hearts and minds which are needed in leadership positions in charities. Those are the kinds of people who do the best jobs.

There are passionate folks who would do the job for a fraction of the price, and twice as good, I guarantee it. It is possible, and it does happen. Check our Charity Navigator for the best charities.

tl;dr – We don’t need people with attitudes like that. There are better people in line who are worth more and who will settle for less.

laureth's avatar

@ubersiren – I suspect it’s easier to volunteer your time when your other, paid work pays you enough to live on.

MissA's avatar

When there is a constant barrage of damning information about top salaries, it is easy to become cynical about charities.

Charity should come from the heart. I don’t believe their organizational leaders should make more than an average business salary. Business skills are important…but, in this case, not the MOST important. I know my comment will not be popular, but greed is the last thing needed in a charity.

Not all are scams, but I’ve heard enough to know that there is a percentage of deceit and thievery in all….from outright stealing, to inflated salaries, to charging for personal usages and more.

My answer is to view charity as a daily part of one’s life. Where I see a bona fide need…if I am able to help, I do. That way, I know where it’s going.

The most important thing for me, is to give with a free heart. Never expect anything in return…try not to let others know that you’re giving. It’s a great feeling.

MissA's avatar

@ubersiren Doctors Without Borders, from what I understand, is an exception to my comment. Thanks for mentioning them.

ubersiren's avatar

@laureth Of course it is, but that’s not the point I was trying to make. The point is that the doctors don’t pursue a position at Dw/oB for the money. If they had the attitude that @mowens was displaying, “I have the skills and I demand a huge salary for my work” then nobody would ever go. There will always be someone willing to take a pay cut to do charitable work. Furthermore “enough to live on” is acceptable. I’m not arguing that these chair-people shouldn’t be paid enough to live on, that’s silly. But, as I mentioned before, many people would believe that receiving $500,000 per year is taking advantage of donors.

mattbrowne's avatar

Yes. If it’s about a huge responsibility requiring complex skills it should be above average, but not excessive.

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