Tom Den Boer’s pay as CEO of the YMCA of Northern Rock County is more than twice that of any other Rock County nonprofit director because of a heavier workload, the president of the YMCA Board of Directors said.
Den Boer’s 2015 pay of $271,823 equated to roughly 10 percent of the Y’s $2.6 million spending for 2015, according to the YMCA’s most recent available tax filing.
Den Boer is not the only leader who earns a six-figure income as the head of a Rock County nonprofit or social service agency.
A Gazette inventory of local nonprofit leader salaries shows that in 2015 and 2016, five of the top 10 earners in the nonprofit sector were paid at least $100,000 in total compensation.
Based on a 2015 compensation survey released by the Wisconsin Nonprofits Association, a statewide nonprofit trade group, four of the 10 highest-paid nonprofit leaders in Rock County appear to have earned compensation packages that surpass average pay for executives of similar-sized nonprofits.
Den Boer’s pay, for instance, was almost three times higher than the average pay for a nonprofit leader with a similar budget, according to the survey.
The Gazette reviewed pay for executives of dozens of local nonprofits with budgets ranging from $500,000 up to nearly $10 million. The results show a wide range of pay for those nonprofit leaders.
Based on IRS form 990 filings—which nonprofits are required to file annually—The Gazette identified nonprofit executive directors whose pay ranged from the low to mid-$40,000 range up to $100,000 or slightly above.
Most nonprofits operate as grant and donor-supported agencies and in many cases have tax-exempt status. The agencies The Gazette reviewed were primarily community and social service agencies whose programs serve impoverished families or people with disabilities.
Most of the nonprofit leaders reviewed appeared to receive what the survey indicated was average nonprofit leadership pay.
The Gazette’s review also showed that some of the highest-paid nonprofit directors in Rock County—even those who showed total earnings of about $100,000—were paid less than the average for nonprofits with similar budget sizes, according to the Wisconsin Nonprofits Association’s survey, which polled about 780 nonprofit officials.
The association did not respond to an inquiry from The Gazette on the survey.
The survey showed median pay for all nonprofit leaders statewide was about $80,000—an amount that’s roughly in line with median pay for the nonprofits The Gazette reviewed.
Except for the outliers.
According to the statewide survey, Den Boer’s pay would be at the top end of the spectrum for all nonprofit leaders surveyed. It’s more than twice the $106,000 Beloit YMCA Director Doug Britt was paid in 2016. The Beloit Y and YMCA of Northern Rock County have a similar budget size, according to tax filings.
In an email to The Gazette, YMCA Board President Jason Engledow wrote that Den Boer earns comparatively higher-than-average pay because the Y’s board, which determines his compensation, considers his workload heavier than that of the average nonprofit CEO.
Engledow wrote that after the Great Recession, the Y implemented a cost-cutting, “synergistic, performance-based salary system” that combined the Y’s CEO position with other leadership roles.
He said Den Boer’s role as CEO includes “the responsibilities of vice president of operations, vice president of financial/resource development director and chief financial officer and vice president of finance.”
“Tom’s combined CEO position wears the hat of all four positions for two YMCA locations, for the downtown Janesville YMCA facility and the Parker YMCA facility in Milton,” Engledow said.
He called Den Boer’s performance of multiple executive jobs “outstanding” and said the Y is “fortunate” to employ Den Boer as CEO.
“Tom could run any organization, profit or nonprofit. He would be a very valuable acquisition for any YMCA or nonprofit looking for a new CEO,” Engledow said.
Some local nonprofit leaders reached by The Gazette defended their earnings, and a few suggested The Gazette should profile executive pay for similar jobs in the private sector.
Others explained their agencies’ protocols for determining and vetting leadership pay to ensure directors receive pay that’s in line with their agencies’ budget sizes and scope of services.
Mary Fanning-Penny, executive director of United Way Blackhawk Region, in 2016 earned $97,000 in total pay, an amount that ranked about 4 percent above the statewide average for directors of similar-sized nonprofits, according to the survey.
Fanning-Penny’s agency channels grant funding and charitable donations it receives to dozens of local nonprofits to help those agencies pay for their social services programs.
Fanning-Penny told The Gazette she was unfamiliar with the Wisconsin Nonprofits Association survey, but she said her agency’s executive committee and volunteer board of directors review her pay annually.
She said local nonprofits don’t have a “universal benchmarking” system to analyze pay. Those groups use an analysis by United Way’s national organization that draws from a wage survey focused on United Way agencies in the Midwest.
She said median pay for directors like her is about $97,000 for all United Way organizations, and for the Midwest region the median is about $100,000.
Cecilia Dever, director of Community Action of Rock and Walworth Counties, a Beloit-based nonprofit, was paid a total compensation package of about $103,000 in 2016, fifth-highest of all the agencies The Gazette reviewed. She received about a 2 percent raise from the prior year.
Dever’s agency, which employs more than 80 paid staff plus volunteers, handles a broad range of family services, including day care and youth housing and employment services. Tax records show its 2016 spending totaled $8.8 million, ranking it as one of the largest nonprofits in the region.
Dever’s pay, while higher than most director salaries The Gazette reviewed, appears to be about 13 percent less than average for the organization’s size, according to the statewide survey. One of Dever’s predecessors at Community Action was paid a total package of $140,000 in 2013, according to tax records.
Like Fanning-Penny, Dever said her executive committee and board look at national nonprofit pay surveys and review local pay trends.
“For me, they’d look at agencies for Rock and Walworth County that are comparable in size,” Dever said. “My board really does a thorough job in making sure that my compensation is in line with benchmark compensation information they review.”
A watchful eye
Dever said “it doesn’t feel good” to have her pay scrutinized publicly. She declined to comment on the pay other Rock County agency directors receive.
She believes the same scrutiny isn’t given to private-sector executive salaries. Unlike with nonprofits, private-sector salary information often is not available to the public. Nonprofits are required by law to supply such information to donors, other agencies, government officials or anyone who asks.
Rick Cohen, a spokesman for the National Council of Nonprofits, said nonprofit leaders have grown accustomed to scrutiny of their pay and how agencies handle their finances, in part because technology has expanded the average person’s access to public information.
Nonprofit tax filings are available on several website databases, and watchdog groups such as Guidestar have websites that allow anyone with internet access to peruse thousands of nonprofits’ financial reports and tax records.
“The big difference is that nonprofits are so transparent,” Cohen said. “It’s a badge of honor, but it also leads to these kind of stories where you hear about a nonprofit director making $100,000. And some people will just look at the number and say, ‘This is outrageous.’”
Cohen said a popular misconception is that nonprofit employees are “all volunteers.”
“In reality, nonprofits employ 10 percent of the workforce in some regions. It’s a major driver,” he said.
The IRS doesn’t set a threshold for “reasonable” pay for nonprofit employees, although it does ask in tax forms that nonprofits indicate whether they have set protocols their boards rely on to determine leadership pay.
Most agencies reviewed by The Gazette indicated in tax records that they have such protocols in place.
Cohen acknowledged scrutiny is “important,” given that many nonprofits pay “at least portions” of their leadership salaries with charitable donations and in some cases with taxpayer-funded grants.
But he pointed out that a professional with a similar title and duties in private industry, “doing the exact same thing,” might get paid $125,000 a year instead of $100,000. And he said the nonprofit sector competes with itself—and with the private sector—for talent.
Apples to apples
Gary Bersell, executive director of KANDU Industries, ranks as the fourth-highest paid nonprofit executive in The Gazette’s review.
Bersell said his $106,000 salary in 2016 was “in line” with regional nonprofit industry averages, according to his board’s annual reviews.
Bersell pointed out that KANDU, which provides employment opportunities to people with disabilities, has commercial operations and pays property taxes. He believes that puts his agency in a different class from other Rock County nonprofits.
He said comparing his pay to other local nonprofit leaders is not an “apples-to-apples” comparison.
“Perhaps it would be appropriate and important to consider what commercial leadership is paid for similar commercial operations and then apply percentages to leadership compensation: not-for-profit versus commercial, like what the city does for determining real estate and personal property taxes,” Bersell wrote in an email.
John Pfleiderer, executive director of Family Services of Southern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois, said financial transparency is useful to donors researching local nonprofits. But he said examination of just leadership salaries can create misunderstanding if people don’t take a comprehensive view of the scope of the agencies’ services.
Pfleiderer, who in 2015 earned total compensation of $132,000, has led his Beloit-based family counseling and advocacy organization for 17 years.
He said his 40-employee agency and its leadership offer more than half a dozen services, and the group is among few that have resources for victims of sexual assault and violence.
Family Services manages a nearly $2 million annual budget for what Pfleiderer called a “cluster of services”—some of which he said his agency created or picked up when programs were dropped by other agencies or local governments. They all require oversight, he said.
“I would worry about some sort of formulaic response (to leadership pay), that if it costs someone 10 cents per dollar cheaper, it’s better because cheaper is better,” he said. “Maybe that’s not the best way of looking at that. There’s no necessary correlation between cost and quality. It can work both ways.”
Pfleiderer said he’s seen nonprofits founder after leadership turnover or have difficulty attracting leadership staff. As in the private sector, he said, that’s a problem that can be rooted in what agencies pay leaders.
“If you’re frequently going through an executive transition, you’re not as able to respond to emerging community needs,” he said. “The recession showed that. Those who were in the middle of focusing on an executive search at that time were hamstrung on developing programs.”
The Rev. Earl Sias listened intently as the sound of young voices rang out in a moving rendition of “Silent Night” at All Saints Anglican Catholic Church.
“There’s something about the voices of children that melt my heart,” Sias said. “They sound like angels.”
The handful of children who make up Janesville’s newest youth choir might not be angels.
But the Academy Singers youth chorus is determined to make a good impression when it debuts in public this month at a Christmas program.
The group’s focus is to develop talent, skills and confidence, especially among children living in the Fourth Ward, where the church is located.
All third- through sixth-grade students citywide are welcome.
“There may be home-schooled children who are interested,” Sias said. “We are actively looking for new members.”
He is aware of other youth choirs in Janesville.
“But this one is free, and there are no tryouts,” Sias said.
The Anglican church on Academy Street offers a rehearsal site, but children do not need to be members.
Sias wants the choir to do more than nourish young talent during after-school hours. He and the congregation want to make sure children are fed.
“Some have not eaten since school lunch,” he said, “so we offer hearty and healthy food.”
To cover costs, the church has sought private donations and support from community businesses, the Salvation Army, the Citywide Clergy Prayer Group and the Fourth Ward Committee.
Adult volunteers and sponsors can join the Friends of Academy Singers to help at rehearsals, conduct fundraising activities and develop grant proposals to sustain and expand the group, Sias said.
Recently, the church received a grant from the Special Opportunities Fund to support the choir. The fund is a component of the Community Foundation of Southern Wisconsin.
Church member Larry Kenney suggested starting the chorus.
“He was involved in organizing a youth choir in another city,” Sias explained.
The fledgling group started meeting in late October. In the first three weeks of rehearsals, eight children joined.
“I love to sing,” said Jordyn Viney, 10, just before practice on a recent Wednesday afternoon.
She and others in the choir expressed excitement about the upcoming program and Christmas caroling.
They sat in chairs in front of Lori Dissmore, who played the piano as they practiced traditional carols.
She and Jocelyn Kopac are the choir’s musical directors.
“I love children,” Dissmore said, explaining why she volunteered to work with the young singers. “I also love music.”
Sias looks forward to more children joining the angelic voices.
“We want to produce a generation that can build a good community,” Sias said. “We have a real commitment to succeed.”
Anna Marie Lux is a Sunday columnist for The Gazette. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
local •2a-3A, 12A
Holiday help for those grieving
For people who are grieving, the glitter and gladness of the holiday season heightens the tangible feeling of sorrow unique to bereavement, local experts said. The Gazette asked professionals who work every day with people struggling with loss to explain the impact of the season and ways to soften the misery.
state • 12A
Schimel: Rule unenforceable
The state cannot enforce a 7-year-old rule that fire sprinklers be put in new apartment buildings with three to 20 units, state Attorney General Brad Schimel wrote in an opinion Friday. In the opinion, the GOP attorney general said the Department of Safety and Professional Services rule goes beyond the agency’s authority under state law.
sports • 1B-11B
Hot-shooting MU beats UW
Playing on the road against Marquette’s biggest rival, Andrew Rowsey scored 24 points on 5-of-6 shooting from 3-point range, while Markus Howard added 23 points in an 82-63 win Saturday over Wisconsin at the Kohl Center in Madison. The Golden Eagles’ high-scoring backcourt duo played through foul trouble to claim the school’s second straight road victory in a series marking its 100th anniversary.
nation/world • 12B-13B
Are fires ‘the new normal’?
“This is the new normal,” said California Gov. Jerry Brown on Saturday as he surveyed damage from the deadly Ventura County fire that has caused the most destruction and continued burning out of control. “We’re about ready to have firefighting at Christmas. This is very odd and unusual.”
Renegade Republican Roy Moore may be plagued by scandal, but it will take more than that to convince the voters of 44th Place North to show up for Democrat Doug Jones on Tuesday.
In a state where Democrats are used to losing, the malaise is easy to find in this African-American neighborhood in suburban Birmingham, even on the final weekend before Alabama’s high-profile Senate contest.
“A lot of people don’t vote because they think their vote don’t count,” Ebonique Jiles, 27, said after promising a Jones volunteer she would support the Democrat in Tuesday’s election. “I’ll vote regardless of whether he wins or loses.”
With history and math working against them in deep-red Alabama, Democrats are fighting to energize a winning coalition of African-Americans and moderate Republicans—a delicate balancing act on full display on Saturday as Jones and his network of volunteers canvassed the state.
Nearly 100 miles south of Birmingham, during an appearance near the staging ground for Selma’s landmark “Bloody Sunday” civil rights march in 1965, Jones declared that Alabama has an opportunity to go “forward and not backward.”
“This campaign has the wind at its back because we are bringing people together from all across this state,” Jones said after a meeting at Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church. “The other side is trying to divide us more than they bring people together.”
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, one of only two African-Americans in the Senate, was scheduled to appear at Jones’ side later in the day at Alabama State University. And Saturday evening, the Democrat organized two get-out-the-vote concerts expected to draw overwhelmingly white voters—including some open-minded Republicans—in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate in more than a quarter century.
Moore had no public events on Saturday, an extraordinary silence three days before the election but in line with a final-weeks strategy that featured very few public events in which he could be forced to address allegations of sexual misconduct.
The former state Supreme Court judge got a big boost the night before in nearby Pensacola, Florida, where President Donald Trump encouraged voters to “get out and vote for Roy Moore.”
The 70-year-old Moore is facing multiple accusations of sexual misconduct, including allegations that he molested two teenage girls and pursued romantic relationships with several others while in his 30s. He has largely denied the allegations.
The explosive charges, which many Washington Republicans describe as credible, are giving Democrats a once-in-a-generation opportunity to pick up a Senate seat in the Deep South, where Republicans significantly outnumber Democrats. Even if Jones wins on Tuesday, many Democrats expect the GOP to re-claim the seat when the term expires at the end of 2020.
Beneath Jones’ biracial and bipartisan balancing act is a complex numbers game that has vexed Alabama Democrats for decades.
The party’s core of black voters and white liberals—plus a smidgen of old-guard, more conservative “Southern Democrats” who’ve held on amid the region’s partisan shift—is worth no more than 40 percent in statewide elections. That’s been true in high-turnout elections, with former President Barack Obama twice landing between 38 and 39 percent, and the most recent governor’s race in 2014, when the Democratic nominee pulled just 36 percent.
African-Americans make up about 25 percent of eligible voters, though Democratic pollster Zac McCrary said Jones needs black voters to comprise 27 percent or more of those who show up at the polls on Tuesday. Jones then needs to win one in three white voters in the state, which would require capturing about 15 percent of Republicans, McCrary said.
Such dynamics are difficult to overcome, said Democratic strategist Keenan Pontoni, who managed the campaign of Georgia congressional hopeful Jon Ossoff earlier this year. Ossoff aimed for an upset in the 6th Congressional District of Georgia but ultimately came up short in Atlanta’s Republican-leaning northern suburbs.
“The only way you win in these kinds of districts and states is a coalition that is obviously very hard to put together,” Pontoni said.
“You’re going after voters who think and vote very differently.”
Much like Jones, Ossoff used an extensive, data-driven ground game to maximize Democratic support while using television advertising to strike a moderate, non-partisan tone.
Ossoff didn’t have a controversial opponent like Moore, but he ran against Washington dysfunction as a way to reach moderates.
On the ground in Alabama on Saturday, Jones dispatched hundreds of volunteers across the state to knock on doors to identify likely supporters in neighborhoods that featured high concentrations of African-Americans and Republicans who supported Moore’s GOP primary opponent, current Sen. Luther Strange.
Jones volunteer Dana Ellis, a 64-year-old nurse, navigated icy sidewalks in Birmingham’s Kingston neighborhood, which is overwhelmingly African-American, to ensure likely Jones supporters vote on Tuesday. Unlike many states, Alabama doesn’t offer early voting.
“Roy Moore will not win if people turn out to vote,” Ellis said.
Many voters on the list provided by the campaign didn’t answer their doors Saturday morning. Those who did suggested they would support Jones, even if they didn’t know him well.
Oweda Clark, who lives just around the corner from 44th Place North, admits it’s hard being a Democrat in Alabama. But she told Ellis that she plans to vote for Jones anyway.
“I don’t like Roy Moore. I don’t like what he stands for,” she said.