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The Frugal Vegan: A Wonderful Bang for Your Charitable Buck!

Posted by at 4:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)


The Frugal Vegan: A Wonderful Bang for Your Charitable Buck! by Rick Thompson

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This is part of a ongoing series offering Prime readers easy-to-follow tips and tidbits on how to become a better advocate for animals by spending less, saving more, investing better, and giving wisely.

Donor beware! is just as crucial as Buyer beware! As frugal as I am, I was livid when I realized recently that the top executives at two nonprofit civil rights organizations that I support were receiving salaries more in line with the  corporate world than the charitable world. The executive director of one had an annual compensation of well over $300,000, and the president of the other received more than $250,000! When I contribute to a nonprofit cause, I want my hard-earned, penny-pinched contributions going to support the organization’s mission—not lining the pockets of its top executive.

Other than all-volunteer groups (like many animal rescues), most nonprofit organizations need to hire staff, administrators, and an executive. And that’s not a problem. The problem is when the compensation—particularly at the top—becomes excessive. It’s an insult to donors and can lead to morale problems among employees and volunteers.

What about PETA? PETA makes this frugal vegan very proud regarding its executive compensation. Just look at its 2009 financial statement (for the fiscal year ending July 31, 2009): PETA’s president, Ingrid E. Newkirk, who has to deal with Washngton, D.C., prices and is herself a regular donor to PETA, earned less than $37,000. Wow!

To put PETA’s president’s compensation into perspective, let’s compare it with the granddaddy of all charitable organizations, United Way Worldwide. For the best “apples to apples” comparison, we’ll use the most recent reported information from the IRS Form 990 (which can be found online at Guide Star). The president and CEO of United Way Worldwide was compensated $982,768 for the fiscal year ending December 31, 2008, or 1.70 percent of the organization’s $57,658,994 in expenses. Compare that to PETA‘s president, who was compensated $35,462 for the fiscal year ending July 31, 2008, or 0.10 percent of PETA’s $32,996,677 in expenses. Put another way, if United Way Worldwide compensated its president at the same rate as PETA, the total compensation would have been $57,659 instead of $982,768—and that’s nearly a million donor dollars that could have (and should have) gone to actually helping others. Moreover, a lot of these execs get free cars, chauffeurs, and other perquisites. PETA’s president doesn’t get any of that.

Excessive executive compensation is not limited to large national and international organizations. It happens frequently even with local and regional organizations, including animal shelters. Consider obtaining this information on your local animal shelter and other organizations that you support. You can ask the organization directly for its latest financial report through a phone call or by visiting its website, or you can search online at Guide Star.

Meanwhile, we can rejoice that no matter how we slice or dice PETA’s president’s compensation (using either actual dollars or a percentage of expenses), Ingrid’s salary is an unbeatable bargain that maximizes donor dollars to be more effective in helping animals. What a friend we—and animals—have in Ingrid!

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    Kim says...

    August 17th, 2010, 10:03 am

    I looked some of this information up on charitynavigator.org a few months back and was pretty angry at what I discovered. At that time, the ASPCA paid their president over $400,000 a year, and the Humane Society paid their president over $200,000. And these organizations have the nerve to bombard me with mail, phone calls, and emails asking for money?

    While I support the mission of these two organizations, I basically live paycheck to paycheck so yes, as this author said, I feel insulted that they ask someone like me for money.

    I also saw that PETA’s other top officers get paid about $70,000 or so a year, which I think is perfectly reasonable. After all, everyone needs to make a living and I don’t begrudge people that. Anything over $100,000 is flat out ridiculous though.

    Jody says...

    August 20th, 2010, 4:53 pm

    You are absolutely right. PETA is definitely a good investment! Thanks to all those head honchos at PETA for always putting the animals first!

    Christy says...

    August 21st, 2010, 1:08 pm

    While I admire Ingrid for accepting such a small salary while working tirelessly for PETA, just because other organizations pay their presidents and top ranking staff more, it doesn’t mean they are being inefficient or using donations poorly.

    In PETA’s case, Ingrid doesn’t need to be paid much (well, probably doesn’t accept much) because she is truly dedicated to the mission of PETA. Fortunately for PETA, she does a great job. However, other organizations pay more for their top positions to attract individuals that will run the organization more effieciently and/or be excellent fund raisers.

    My father works for a hospital that a number of years ago hired a new CEO/president. A lot of people in the area at the time were very upset about how much the hospital had decided to pay him (we are talking several million dollars a year). As the years have gone by, my father has realized that this man at his crazy high salary is a far better deal than anyone else being paid much less. He has started campaigns that have successfully raised more money than the hospital had ever seen before. He has also been on a mission to operate much more efficiently, and have made changes that have saved the hospitals millions more than the salary he is paid. He has done all this in a bad economy, without firing people, and even giving some of the hospital staff raises.

    Surely, you must agree that this CEO is worth his salary, although hearing that he is paid several million dollars a year at first sounds crazy. The same must go for some of these organizations people assume are wasting their money. According to your article, the president for the United Way is paid nearly 1 million dollars a year. Yes, this seems like a lot, and maybe he/she isn’t worth that money. I’m not familiar enough with the organization to say whether he/she is or isn’t. However, I wouldn’t assume that a non-profit is paying their president too much based on salary alone. If you really want to make sure your donations are going to the right organization, do your research and don’t base it on a blanket statement of how much presidents should earn.

    I would much rather donate to a non-profit that pays their president $400,000 and operates efficiently than one that pays their president $60,000 and wastes money. A non-profit receiving millions of dollars a year in donations can easily waste more than the $340,000 difference in its operations.

    Marcia says...

    August 22nd, 2010, 9:52 pm

    I wish all the CEOs of animal rights/welfare organizations were so dedictated that they did not demand huge salaries. However, judging by a lot of the jobs in the private sector, even $200,000 is not that much, and if the person is doing a good job, and the president of HSUS seems to be, then it is probably worth it.

    What bothers me is some of the new fundraising for the organizations. I get a lot of requests for money because I am really dedicated to animal well-being, and I notice that most of the letters are like templates–all saying pretty much the same thing. I realize more animals than ever need help, and I also realize that the donations are down in this economy. But I find it discouraging to send in as much as I can (usually $50 to $200 at a time) and then get asked in about a week or so if I can “send in twice as much” by a given date. If not, I am asked to send in “at least” what I sent the last time, again by that date. Hey, guys, I’m doing the best I can!

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