The Nonprofit 1 Percent

Even the do-gooders can seem blind to their own excess

But Claro did call up the Guild's main office and demanded to speak to Morse, who promptly called her back.

"I think he was surprised that I had the balls to call him," Claro says. "Like I told him, I never had a problem speaking my mind. . . . Like the Puerto Ricans say: 'I've been kicked out of better places.' It didn't hurt me at all" to confront him.

Morse, she says, wanted to know why she hadn't taken the other jobs and told her they would let her know if any other positions opened up like the one she had been doing before. Claro still thinks he considers people like her "little cockroaches who can be fired."

Dr. Alan Morse, president and CEO of the Jewish Guild for the Blind
Dr. Alan Morse, president and CEO of the Jewish Guild for the Blind

Like many people who worked under him, Claro has glowing things to say about John Heimerdinger, the Guild CEO prior to Morse. He was the kind of person who knew your name when he got in the elevator with you, several people told the Voice. He sent a personally signed birthday card to every employee every year, Claro and others say.

Morse is viewed as much more distant and cool. Like many members of the 1 percent, he does not like press looking too closely at his life. He answered the Forward with a short e-mailed statement, did not speak to the Daily News, and, through the PR department at the Guild, did not respond to multiple interview requests from the Voice nor to detailed questions sent to him via e-mail.

However, quite unlike 1-percenters employed in the for-profit sector, there is a great deal that can be learned about nonprofit 1-percenters, as their employers have to file publicly viewable tax documents showing their pay.

Over the past few years, Morse's tenure at the Guild paints a picture of a CEO's pay corresponding in no way with its revenue stream.

In 2008, Morse's total compensation from the Guild was $843,502, breaking down as $199,775 in "reportable compensation from the organization," $513,706 in "reportable compensation from related organizations," and $130,021 in "estimated amount of other compensation from the organization and related organizations." The Guild's compensation committee reported on the "Schedule O" of its tax form that it had met and decided to freeze salaries for the CEO and executive and senior vice presidents for 2008 on December 10 of the previous year.

The year 2008 was a moderate one financially for the Guild: Investment revenue was down $1.3 million (after being up $10 million the year before), but the Guild still wound up with $3.8 million more in overall revenue after expenses.

But 2009—the first full year after the Wall Street debacle—was a terrible one for the Guild. It lost almost $4.4 million in investment revenue, contributions and program-service revenue were down, and it ended the year about $5 million in the red. Without attaching a date to when this would have happened (presumably in 2008) as they had in the previous year's tax documents, the compensation committee again froze top salaries for 2009.

Seems like a logical move, given how much revenue would have been projected to be down at the end of 2008 when the economy was in free fall. And yet Morse's overall compensation went up 82 percent in 2009 to a total of $1,533,558 (breaking down in the three categories from the Guild, related organizations, and the Guild plus related organizations in lumps of $614,610, $782,231, and $136,717, respectively).

On the same year's Schedule O, the committee reported that "subsequently the committee met on 10/19/09 to set compensation for 2010. At that time, the committee granted bonuses to the CEO, three executive vice presidents and senior vice president in lieu of a 2009 salary increase."

The case is never made for any bonus made midway through such a bleak economic year (one in which the CEO, whose role in nonprofits often involves fundraising, actually lost $27,372 in fundraising after expenses were paid).

But as strange as it is that the CEO's pay in 2009 seems to be at odds with the organization's revenue stream (a fact pointed out by the Daily News in September 2011, a possibly important date) something even stranger happened in 2010. That year was better economically for the Guild than 2009. Investments were up ($2.2 million from negative $4.4 million the year prior), total revenue was up about $10 million, and the organization ended the year more than $5 million in the black, rather than $5 million in the hole.

And in this better year, Morse's salary decreased 42.6 percent, coming "down" to $880,941 (breaking down in the three categories as $245,513, $509,911, and $125,517).

That amount of money kept Morse comfortably within the 1 percent. But 2009's spike of 82 percent, followed by a drop of 42.6 percent in 2010—both seemed to clash with the revenue stream the nonprofit was receiving. It's also presumably the kind of thing Governor Andrew Cuomo's new task force looking into pay at organizations that receive state money should be investigating.

Employees of the Guild say they were told by management that Morse's pay had been misrepresented by the Daily News and that the bump was merely a payment to his retirement fund. But it did little to assuage their ire—employee pensions had been frozen a few months earlier.

A close look at the Guild's 2010 tax returns, reported here in the Voice for the first time, reveals an interesting timeline. That year, the board's compensation committee wrote that the "committee arrives at annual salaries for the CEO, three executive vice presidents and senior vice president at a meeting at which the auditors and attorneys are present."

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