When those helping the needy seem greedy

February 16, 2013 

  • Check the charity

    The Better Business Bureau lists the financial data of charities that meet its wise-giving standards. Goodwill either has not responded to written BBB requests for information or has declined to be evaluated. Charity participation in BBB review is voluntary. bbb.org/charity.

Goodwill has found itself in a bad way as questions about its board’s judgment pile up faster than donated too-small dress shirts.

When the average compensation for a nonprofit CEO in the Southeast is a generous $252,000, the president of the local Goodwill Community Foundation’s $430,000 seems more than excessive. It seems wrong.

Especially when you add in that the compensation for the foundation’s executive vice president tops $365,000 – and that the two are married.

Almost $800,000 gleaned from the offerings of folks wanting to help the needy is going to one couple? At the going Goodwill rate of $4.79 a dress, that’s more than 173,000 frocks that would have to go through the foundation’s 36 stores just to pay Dennis and Linda McLain, who have guided the charity for more than 30 years.

No matter the quality of the job the couple is doing, it seems an extravagant amount when the need is so great in the Eastern North Carolina area the foundation serves. By comparison, the governor of North Carolina makes less than $140,000.

And during a year when North Carolina had the fifth-highest unemployment rate in the country, sending even more Tar Heels clenching dollar bills to the doors of Goodwill stores, the McLains received an 11 percent increase.

Four others on the foundation’s 12-member board earned more than $100,000 in 2011, including the charity’s treasurer, whose compensation topped $230,000.

These are board-approved pay packages. Nothing illegal here. Not even having the two highest positions held by a married couple is against the rules – which in North Carolina are pretty much up to individual boards. It’s just amazingly bad judgment for a charitable enterprise that rises and falls on the good will of the public.

We want nonprofit managers paid enough that the positions attract good people capable of corralling and growing what can be chaotic enterprises. But we also want them to feel a calling that isn’t about cash and to understand that agencies helping the less-fortunate should not be funding an $800,000-a-year fortune.

What’s fair? Josh Shaffer reported last Sunday in his story on the McLains that the YMCA of the Triangle pays its CEO $289,444 to manage a nonprofit with nearly double the gross receipts of Goodwill’s $32 million and almost seven times the number of employees. The Food Bank of Eastern and Central North Carolina pays its president $163,439 out of gross receipts that are 2.5 times more than Goodwill’s.

The GCF board of directors said the McLains’ compensation “reflects the impact that their leadership has had on the people of the Research Triangle, Eastern North Carolina, North Carolina, the U.S. and the global community.”

To be sure, Dennis McLain, 70, a Methodist minister, and his wife have turned around what was a failing enterprise. In 1982, the net worth of Goodwill of Eastern North Carolina was $300,000. A 2011 audit listed the charity’s assets at $63 million. The foundation’s stores now employ more than 600 people who on average earn nearly $20 an hour in salary and benefits.

But the charity has more issues than nepotism and gold-plated pay. The real estate business of one Goodwill board member has received contracts from the charity. No board of any kind should have a member who benefits from contracts with the operation he oversees.That conflict of interest is self-evident. Even if members recuse themselves, boards are often cozy affairs that invite rubber-stamping. It looks bad. It smells bad. It is bad.

For Goodwill, there are other questions about murky overseas donations and trips, and about replacing hands-on programs that helped the disabled and less-fortunate learn job skills with hard-to-track online computer tutorials.

As to whether it wants to address these concerns, the Goodwill board can do as it likes. As can the public, who can choose instead to bless charities whose operations match expectations.

The McLains and the Goodwill board might have the best intentions in the world, but their judgment no doubt will cause fewer people to give.

And there’s nothing good about that.

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service