Skip to main content

Mom always told me, “Never talk about money.”

Damn good advice, primarily because it isn’t classy to yell and scream about how much one makes.

So, when Chris Brogan created a Twitter firestorm by discussing his $22k day rate to promote his Third Tribe project, I felt mixed emotions. On one hand, as a staunch free market fan, Brogan deserves whatever he can get. On the other hand, did he really need to tell the world his rates (surely Brogan could have achieved the end goal of promoting his new project in a more subtle manner). I’ve never met Chris Brogan, but it seems as though this was a case of a really bright guy making a PR mistake. Imagine…he too is human!

Talking about salary is one of the best ways to incur serious public ire. This is especially true in the non-profit world.

Folks in non-profits are supposed to get paid less because they’re doing good works, and money needs to go to those endeavors.

It is twisted logic that leads many talented people away from non-profits, in the process doing more harm than good.

It was thus a shame today to read Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s comments on hospital execs’ compensation in the The Globe and Mail today. He said:

We don’t call it public service for nothing. They (hospital execs) need to feel a sense of mission, a sense of cause. That’s got to be part of it. Maybe I’m old-fashioned in this way, but … this is a cause. It’s a privilege to be champions in this cause…I think we have to take a look at some of the salaries that we are giving to senior executives in the public sector. And I am talking about more than a freeze.… We are going to have to take a look at the levels as well.”

This is insane. If you want the best public service, PAY people and you’ll get it. It is a shame thinking like McGuinty’s holds water anywhere.

I don’t care if the CEO of a large Toronto hospital network makes over $800k. He works 80 hours a week and has skills in high demand on the open market. Like Chris Brogan, VERY few people can do what he does.

I doubt very much that this explanation will work if you, the PR person, are trying to quell a pay-related storm or silence some idiot politician on a rampage. Problem is, it is one of the only angles you have.

You can also compare the salary of a non-profit exec (though it may be high) to that of a for-profit sector exec of the same level (it will likely be higher). Alas, there’s not a lot of other options and the two I’ve listed aren’t that great.

The taboos surrounding non-profit pay executive pay are a crying shame.

Am I wrong?

How would you explain the high compensation of a non-profit CEO?

Disclosure: I work with a hospital that is part of the large Toronto hospital network mentioned above on fundraising events. This post in NO WAY reflects the position of said hospital. The view expressed here is entirely  my own. My current roster of clients is primarily non-profit. Again this post does not reflect any of their views. Oh, and finally, both of my parents work for non-profit organizations (but I don’t think they care about disclaimers, which is kinda nice).

Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • Joe Brown says:

    Nice post, Jackson. While I don’t come from the PR world, I agree that purely emotional and moralistic responses to nonprofit executive compensation are misguided. I am a proponent of rational approaches in this area. I have recently written a couple of posts in that vein about the Boys & Girls Clubs of America brouhaha. ( and

    I have also written about the “charity transparency” legislation currently pending in the Canadian Parliament, triggering responses from the office of the legislation’s sponsor, Albina Guarnieri, and one of its vocal opponents, attorney Mark Blumberg. You might want to check out that post and the debate here:

    Thanks again for a compelling post.

  • Hey Joe,

    Thanks for sharing the links!

    While I believe non-profits have to go above and beyond when it comes to cutting costs, we should demand more of them re recruiting GREAT people. You cannot do amazing things without amazing individuals. This cost cash.

    I am moderately familiar with the legislation but your info will be helpful.

    Have a great weekend!

Leave a Reply