This space has often championed local nonprofit organizations. Many serve vital purpose in our community, and The Times Leader Sunday page 1A package about pay and compensation for top employees at some area nonprofits should not be construed as a criticism of those people, their work or their agencies.
It should, however, serve as a wake-up call to nonprofit directors who need to rethink their justifications for six -figure salaries in a county where the median income is $43,296.
Take Catholic Social Services Executive Director Stephen Nocilla. The agency does some of the most meaningful work for area underprivileged, often providing direct aid such as food for the hungry and shelter for the homeless. Nocilla oversees an annual budget of nearly $11 million, and a highly respectable 92 cents of every dollar goes into programs.
It is not unreasonable that Nocilla’s total compensation in 2011 topped $115,000, considering he heads an agency serving 11 counties. Yet when asked about it, one response was at least unsatisfying and at most insulting: “I can’t remember putting in a 40 hour week.”
In an economy where many people work well beyond the traditional 40 hours to earn far less, that alone is hardly justification for six-figure pay.
Wyoming Valley Drug and Alcohol Services CEO Carmen Ambrosino offered a similar rationalization for his total compensation of $174,079 in 2012, noting he works 60-hour weeks and is on call 24 hours a day. Again, a claim many paid far less can make.
But Ambrosino went further, arguing his salary in 1973 was a scant $6,100 and “nobody was doing newspaper stories about that.” As reporter Roger Dupuis noted, while $6,100 sounds like poverty wages, but adjusted for inflation would equal about $32,000 today — a healthy starting salary in this region.
Ambrosino also argued “there are people in Northeast Pennsylvania who are making three, four, five times what I am” running nonprofits, and he’s right. Clearbrook, Inc., CEO Nicholas Colangelo hauled in total compensation of $462,954. But such parity arguments have two flaws: They ignore the possibility others are overpaid, and and they glibly forget those at the lower end of the same ladder.
There are people heading nonprofits who received compensation two, three and four times less than Ambrosino, yet he made no mention of that.
But the compensation of Bill Kelly, who recently stepped down as head of WVIA public radio and television, may be the toughest sell. Kelly got $275,270 in 2012, running a nonprofit that repeatedly asks viewers and listeners for financial support, that constantly reminds its audience about the loss of state aid, and that resorted to forced furlough days when the radio station runs on autopilot.
Add the fact that WVIA only spends a bit more than 68 cents of every dollar on program costs, and such largess can become hard to fathom.
All these agencies do important work. But if their heads and boards of directors who presumably set their compensation want public support, they need to do a better job of publicly justifying such ample salaries.
It’s not enough to note what others get for running similar agencies; They need to justify what the public gets from the people running their own.