The Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Benefits Packages

I hate it when I’m on the same side of an issue as Sick Willie Folks, who has combined gratuitous sexual innuendo and the occasional leak from political insiders into a nearly real job. Today’s FITS News raises the question of the salary and perks of the United Way of the Central Carolinas President Gloria Pace King. Or I should say, former President. Because the latest news coming out of Charlotte is that King is gone, fired by the Board that overpaid her and then was so puzzled about why donors would find the whole thing objectionable.

Full disclosure: I was offered a job once by UWCC at considerably more money than I was making then, but I turned it down. Money isn’t everything, you know. I didn’t really want to live in Charlotte. I didn’t really want to run a branch office of a large United Way, I wanted to run a local United Way. Besides, I heard the stories. The ones about hubris, about conceit, about the revolving door of capable and committed staff. I just didn’t want to go through that.

This is how the seeds of non-profit hubris are sown: a committed young person begins to believe that he or she must do something to change the world. So, giving up on a career that might pay a whole lot more (even more than what King made), he or she joins the staff of a nonprofit. Just like any other part of the free enterprise system, the people who work a little longer, push a little harder and dream a little bigger succeed a little more. Someone notices the work of the young idealist. Someone offers a bigger job, running a bigger organization. And the story is repeated, until the young person is not so young any more. Until idealism becomes the solipsism of arrogance. Until the former idealist begins believing that it was his or her brilliance that made all the difference. Until a fawning Board, made up of people who make 400 times what their employees make, sees nothing wrong with paying the former idealist an outrageous fortune.

Stories like King’s disgrace and dishonor all nonprofit leaders. They disgrace and dishonor the vast majority of the people, young and not so young, who work for lousy pay, crappy benefits, against the odds, to keep alive poorly funded organizations in the holy hope that just maybe they can change the world. Disgrace and dishonor.

They also feed into the cynicism of people people like the commenter on FITS who said: “People would be shocked if they knew what goes on in the name of ‘good’. … Look closely at any of them, and with rare exception, self-interests is first, ‘good’ is second.” The United Way campaign this year, particularly in the Charlotte media market, is going to suffer from that kind of cynicism. Which means that the people who need help the most are ultimately going to take it on the chin.

But until those of us who serve the public good can have the integrity to say to our Boards: “Thanks for the raise, but I’d rather you paid the staff more. Or put more money into programs that are changing this community,”–until we say that–Will Folks is right.

I hate it when Will Folks is right.

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