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Study: Manatee nonprofits cut staff, raise executive pay

SARASOTA — Senior executives leading nonprofits in Manatee and Sarasota counties saw their salaries rise 11 percent since 2008 even as almost half of their organizations cut staff positions, according to a study released Thursday.

The biannual report from the NonProfit Resource Center said 43 percent of organizations surveyed eliminated full- or part-time staff positions in 2009. Ninety-one percent of those respondents said the cuts were a direct result of budget reductions.

“Even though that was a very high number, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been, given the economy,” said Judi Bell, the vice president of nonprofit services for the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, which funds the resource center.

Meanwhile, the average executive made $95,721, up from $86,036 the last time the study was done in 2008.

Bell said the executive pay raises are a good sign because they keep experienced leaders in charge of the funds entrusted to them.

Charitable giving is big business in Manatee County. According to IRS figures, 487 agencies serving the county raised more than $297 million in 2009.

Executive turnover was 9 percent in the most recent study, down from 17 percent in 2008.

“It provides some stability with the organization,” Bell said. “I think people are trying their best to retain their staff and keep them at a competitive level.”

Despite dwindling contributions and increased demand for services that many nonprofits face, the study found only 16 percent of organizations cut employee salaries, compared to 31 percent that increased salaries.

At the United Way of Manatee County, President Jerry Koontz said salaries, including his, have been stagnant since 2008. The organization’s board did approve a one-time bonus in 2009 to show its appreciation to the nine full-time employees, Koontz said. The United Way lost a full-time employee, the campaign director, in 2008 and did not fill the position because of expected contribution reductions.

“We did not do that here,” Koontz said of pay increases. “I’m reluctant to pass judgment on other organizations without knowing their situations.”

Ninety-seven nonprofits responded to a survey for the study, and 66 of them serve Manatee in some capacity, Bell said. The study is designed to help agencies understand trends resulting from the economic downturn and set competitive salaries and benefits to attract and retain employees. Data from nonprofit groups were kept confidential. Only a technician who compiled the survey responses had access to individual reports, according to Susie Bowie, the foundation’s communications manager.

Most tax-exempt organizations are required to disclose financial reports, including executives’ salary, to the IRS in Form 990, which is due May 15

According to the study, staff reductions led the groups to lean more heavily on volunteers. Forty-nine percent of the organizations reported increasing their use of volunteers.

One of Manatee’s largest nonprofit organizations, Meals on Wheels PLUS, uses a formula to quantify the value of its volunteers. In 2009, volunteers provided the group $763,565 worth of services, mainly delivering meals and sorting food at the Food Bank of Manatee, said Kristen Theisen, the organization’s development director. That was up from $731,000 in 2008.

“That’s an enormous value that we would not be able to provide if we had to have paid staff do those jobs,” Theisen said.

Theisen said Meals on Wheels has reduced staff by about two positions through attrition since 2008. The organization employs 72.

We Care Manatee, which provides free health care to patients who lack insurance through volunteer physicians, is one of the county’s smallest nonprofits, but it hasn’t escaped the economic downturn.

According to Executive Director Jill Stalpes Gass, the organization cut half a position, leaving her and a part-time case manager, because of dwindling donations.

She said her salary has not increased 11 percent since 2008, but making up for the lost 20 hours per week warrants additional compensation.

“I understand why salaries do increase with all the extra work I’ve had to take on,” she said.