Should charity begin with nonprofit executive’s paychecks?

By Peter St. Onge

Early in August, when Jane McIntyre was a candidate for executive director of United Way of the Central Carolinas, the inevitable question arrived from the agency’s search committee: How much would she want to be paid?

McIntyre had thought long about this, talked to friends, done her research. She pulled out a chart of nonprofit salaries. The number she wanted, she told them, was “a lot less than you want to give me.”
The $150,000 range McIntyre suggested was, in fact, a lot less than the controversial $365,000 salary and $2.1 million pension package paid to McIntyre’s United Way predecessor, Gloria Pace King. “I didn’t want my salary to be a barrier to the success of United Way,” McIntyre said last week.

McIntyre, a veteran of nonprofit leadership in Charlotte, knows that finding that salary sweet spot is a complicated and perilous exercise for nonprofit boards everywhere. Pay too little, and you may miss out on the talent that can best run your organization, industry experts say. Pay too much and you invite the headlines that have dogged the leaders of some Carolinas nonprofits this year.

How much is worth it for nonprofit executives? It’s a number made increasingly delicate by an economy that has strained nonprofit budgets, left more needy to be ministered to, and sensitized donors who are selective about the dollars they have left to give.