Monday, August 2, 2010

“Your Director makes WHAT?” asks New Jersey

Recently, the New York Times published this article (“Lawmakers Seeking Cuts Look at Nonprofit Salaries“, July 26, 2010), referencing the desire of new Jersey lawmakers to curb the amount that nonprofit leaders can make.  Essentially, they are saying “hey, executive director, if you are making THAT much money, then your organization must be rich and therefore the state really isn’t going to give you money. You just give it to the boss, not those starving children! So there!”

As you know, Museos, we here at the blog have previously written about our own chagrin with the great divide between museum top-earners and entry-level salaries.  I loved seeing this quote in the article: “Compensation also varies by type of nonprofit. Museum directors and hospital chiefs generally are better paid than leaders of other nonprofits.” (emphasis added)

I actually don’t know what to say about the accuracy of that statement (I have no idea what the author’s references were), but seeing museum directors and hospital chiefs in the same boat surprises me.  Also, I would be afraid that the average reader would take away from this sentence that museum pay is gratuitously high.  As everyone in the field knows, that is not the case for most Museos.

The article references a website called Charity Navigator that requires more investigation on our part (look forward to that post!).  I did really enjoy their president’s quote:

“Many donors feel that paying the leader of a charity a six-figure salary is outrageous,” said Ken Berger, the group’s president.

Mr. Berger disagrees with the argument, popular among many nonprofits, that to attract top talent to manage complex organizations, they must compete with for-profit businesses.

“I’m not advocating poverty wages,” he said. “But arguing that those working for the benefit of the neediest people in our society should make millions and multimillions like corporate leaders defies common sense.”

Very interesting that Mr. Berger cites the very argument that came up in the comments section of our post.  This division between earning enough and not enough--between self-sacrificing dedication and greed--lies at the heart of any nonprofit.  And in museums, the amount of passion and dedication that flows behind the scenes makes the situation even more personal and complicated. 

The stakes are high. But I think the answer is to remember not just how much you love museums, but that you as a Museo are worth a lot to the museum field.  You are “that man behind the curtain”, and sometimes in front of the curtain, too.  The shift toward layoffs and replacement with volunteers that seems to be looming in the UK is not one that can be ignored.

Around the globe, museums are on a precipice.  We need to move forward.  We need to innovate.  We need to pull together, darn it.

And so I return to where we left off in April – the Solutions Series.  Where are those ideas, Museos?  Where can we go from here, that will both further the museum industry as well as protecting museum workers from low pay or no pay? 

Who has a plan?  Please comment below or send us an email at museosunite @ gmail (dot) com.

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