Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Concerns Surrounding Non-Profit Executive Compensation

Executive compensation is a natural concern of many in the non-profit sector. A 2011 report from the Chronicle of Philanthropy highlighted that the median pay of executives in 132 surveyed charities and foundations increased 3.8% over the prior year. Three years later, Charity Navigator reported that the typical charity CEO’s compensation had increased just 2.6% over the prior year. The Charity Navigator report surmises that raises have been modest since the recession. However, the report also acknowledges that despite this overall trend, there are some non-profit leaders that earn “excessive” wages of more than $1 million. Factors involved in increasing executive pay levels include the following:
  • Greater competition among non-profits to attract top talent.
  • Difficultly in retaining staff, and a lack of internal candidates for some critical positions. 
  • Nonprofits’ desires to lure corporate executives, as the finances of non-profits have become subject to greater government scrutiny.
In addition to higher pay, some non-profits compensate for the lack of stock options and other corporate extras in the sector by allowing flexible work time. Others even pay bonuses, once rare at non-profits.

In recent years, the Internal Revenue Service has begun examining executive compensation at non-profits with an eye toward uncovering potential abuse.

Understanding the need to recruit and retain quality staff has added to the concern over how to structure compensation policies & programs to be fair and competitive, without crossing the fiscally abusive line. Incentive plans and other innovative compensation & human resources practices are becoming critical elements in the organizational strategy of many non-profit organizations.

A previous Astronology® highlighted details to consider when developing a compensation plan for non-profit executives:

1. Rationale for developing plans

Surveyed non-profits indicated multiple reasons for creating new programs. More than half of the participants indicated their program objectives included the following:
  • improve morale and/or employee relations;
  • improve employee retention;
  • link pay to performance / improve employee performance; and
  • become more competitive in total compensation (i.e., cash compensation, recognition, and benefits).
2. Types of plans and performance measures

The most popular types of cash compensation and recognition programs implemented by the participants were bonuses, incentives, and non-cash recognition programs.

Productivity, financial, and quality measures were the performance criteria most often used as the basis for the respondents’ compensation awards under a variety of programs.

3. Budget and award amounts

The average variable compensation award payouts typically ranged from 20% - 30% of salary. In some organizations, the targeted payouts ranged from 10% - 20% of the salary range midpoint.

Interestingly, in Astron’s confidential database of non-profit organizations, target incentives levels are as follows:
  • Staff / Non-Management: 5% - 10%
  • Supervisory Staff: 5% - 15%
  • Middle Management: 10% - 20%
  • Senior Management: 15% - 30%
  • Executive Management: 20% - 40%
  • CEO: 30% - 50%
Beyond these details, following are guidelines to consider when implementing a new compensation plan:

1. Nonprofit organizations should first conduct an assessment to determine the appropriateness of innovative compensation to their cultures and organizations. This assessment should focus on the following:
  • the objectives to be achieved through implementing an innovative compensation program,
  • what motivates staff,
  • the opinions and views of members, constituents, & volunteer leaders, and
  • the financial resources available.
2. Any innovative compensation program should be viewed as part of a total approach to compensation and carefully integrated into the design of that program. A market analysis of current compensation levels related to the jobs in the organization should be conducted in the early stages of or prior to developing a program.

3. The innovative compensation program, especially management incentive programs that provide significant opportunities for financial rewards, should be clearly tied to performance. The program should demonstrate the achievement of overall organization objectives in finance, program, development, client service, membership, public affairs, government relations, community relations, and any other areas deemed important to the organization.

4. Organizations should consider pilot testing innovative compensation programs on a selected group of staff before introducing the programs to all staff. More than one innovative compensation program should be considered, especially in larger organizations. Many non-profit organizations have implemented at least two types of programs.

5. Innovative compensation programs should be well communicated to staff and used as a vehicle to announce the success of employees, teams, and the organization.

Is non-profit executive pay a concern for your organization? Is there some form of transparency in place to alleviate those concerns? Are you considering changing or have you recently changed your compensation plan? Please share your thoughts with Astronology®. We may feature your response in a future article!

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