Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Blade: $334K AIDS Food Bank ED Defends High Salary

If there's one thing I'm sick of in my AIDS accountability efforts, it's not the excessive compensation packages of some executives, it's how they refuse to engage in a discussion with the community about their earnings. Too often when clients, activists and reporters attempt to understand why the salaries are so elevated, the executives and their underlings say "no comment," or issue vague written statements designed to deflect attention away from the greed of agency leaders.

Joining the long list of such AIDS agencies is Food and Friends. This is from an email sent by Lisa Bandera, communications director for the food bank:

In a message dated 6/23/2008 2:15:08 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time, writes:
We have no comment with respect to your recent blog entry.
It's impossible to hold an honest chat when Food and Friends is practicing the silent treatment. And that isn't their policy just for bloggers such as myself. Even the Washington Blade couldn't get the director to chat about his pay. It's not at all original for an AIDS executive to defend his compensation package with a "no comment."

But what I found newly troubling about the AIDS food agency is that they've spent agency dollars, intended for hot meals and beverages to keep people with AIDS alive, hiring a consulting firm and nonprofit experts to guide the board of directors in determining the executive director's compensation. I'd like to know how much money was spent on the outside consultants and why the board needs so much outside assistance in making a salary decision.

Supporters of Food and Friends should start asking questions about their donations, and requiring that their contributions go to meals and juices for clients, not outrageous salaries or outside consultants.

From the excellent Blade article by Lou Chibbaro:

Food & Friends, a non-profit group founded 20 years ago in a church basement, says the city’s HIV/AIDS Administration reduced its funding allocation from the federal Ryan White AIDS program by $303,000 in March, just as the group faced rising gas and food prices and a decline in private donations due to a sluggish economy.

“We are in a solid and stable financial position,” said Craig Shniderman, the group’s executive director. “But we can’t spend money we don’t have. We have no choice but to reduce some of our services.”

But Shniderman this week was criticized by prominent AIDS activist and blogger Michael Petrelis, who published information from the latest available IRS finance report for Food & Friends, which showed Shniderman received a combined salary and benefits package in
2006 of $334,551 . . .

Shniderman declined to comment on his salary, saying his organization’s board is in charge of handling those matters.

Robert Hall III, president of the Food & Friends board of directors, said in a written statement that the board sets Shniderman’s salary and benefits by retaining a “nationally recognized compensation and human resources consulting firm” and independent consults to study “national, regional and local data” pertaining to salaries for executives similar to Shniderman.

“We are fortunate that Craig Shniderman has served as our executive director for more than 13 years and we have benefited from his more than 30 years of experience in the nonprofit field,” Hall said. “Food & Friends requires, and receives, from Craig exemplary leadership, planning, fundraising and management so as to meet client needs.” . . .

An announcement on the Food & Friends web site says the group has reduced its expenditures for client services by $223,000, with the hope that the reduction could be reversed if government funding cuts are restored next year.

The reduction in services will include reduced meal deliveries to family members of clients in D.C., reduced liquid nutritional supplements except for clients who are under weight or who have a crucial need for supplements, the elimination of juice from client meal bags and a reduction by 50 percent of the number of new clients the group will accept from D.C. and Virginia . . .


Anonymous said...

You can find articles dating back to the '90s about the rising tide of MBA geniuses who would be pursuing nonprofit leadership roles after graduation, instead of corporate positions. It was clear then that they were not doing this out of selflessness, rather it was because nonprofit positions paid salaries competitive with business. Isn't there a website that rates or ranks charities based upon several criteria, one of which is the percentage of every donor dollar that goes to executive compensation? Charities and corporations need something like the nutritional labels we have on food. The % fat would be executive salaries. Maybe an informed donor base would then choose where to contribute their money, and charities run by yachting-class executives would dry up.

Unknown said...

This letter came my way this morning from a friend in LA, who sent the letter to Food and Friends in DC:

Dear Craig Schniderman,

I was appalled at the recent comment -- or rather, lack thereof, in the form of "no comment" -- that you wrote to Internet blogger and respected activist Michael Petrelis, regarding his attempts to discuss with you and/or Mr. Shniderman the bald scandal that has appropriately erupted now that Mr. Shniderman's grossly excessive compensation has come to light.

Your dismissive tone and silent-treatment stonewalling fly in the face of the administrative transparency and accountability to the community that we in the AIDS community demand. I speak with authority as an 18-year survivor of HIV and with over 17 years of experience working in HIV direct services and non-profit administration.

I was an associate director of several AIDS service organizations in Los Angeles and West Hollywood, California, and at no time was I ever paid more than $66,000 per year in salary. And yet I managed budgets of millions, administered grants, supervised dozens of staff, oversaw the development and administration of multiple programs, and directly and indirectly served hundreds of clients living with HIV, chronic mental illness, and homelessness.

On this salary, I was able to independently support myself with no other means, own property, take vacations, and provide for my medical care in Los Angeles County, one of the most expensive areas of our country in which to live.

If I could do it on $66,000 in Los Angeles, Mr. Shniderman does not need over $300,000. Further, my work and all work within my agencies were subject to community oversight via an objective Continuous Quality Improvement Committee and related program, an empowered Community Advisory Board comprised of constituents, and strict federal, state, and county oversight.

If any program, policy, or salary were excessive in any way, there was accountability to the community to discuss it and address it openly in the spirit of the highest standards of ethics. Everyone knows that you don't go into non-profit work if you want to be rich; if you want that kind of compensation, work somewhere else in the private sector.

I am a native of Washington, DC, and to see this type scandal occur in my home town and with "my" people living with HIV is disgusting. Your elitist, defensive, patronizing, condescending, and dismissive comment does not go unnoticed by thousands of readers of Mr. Petrelis' efforts and other constituents who demand public accountability from our nation's AIDS service organizations and other community-based organizations.

I personally resent such an attitude from someone such as yourself and other staff whom I suspect are NOT persons living with HIV, and yet are more than happy to profit obscenely from the funds raised to fight it.

On behalf of the hundreds of thousands of voices that have been silenced by AIDS, and those who are currently living with the many stressors of HIV, I raise my voice to you with call of Shame! Your agency must be transparently accountable or it must face the wrath of the citizens you purport to serve, and those who love them, who demand accountability from its publicly and privately funded charitable organizations.

If your agency refuses to be accountable to the community for the fair, reasonable and appropriate expenditure of funding priorities (such as direct client services and resources), to paraphrase Bill Clinton, "Step aside!", someone else will.

Ken Howard
West Hollywood, California

Anonymous said...

One other thing that needs to be clarified is what the Executive Director's current salary package is. The figure cited is from 2006. Have they been asked to disclose it? Also, what are the salaries of other high-level management in the organization? I wouldn't be surprised if they were also out of whack.

Anonymous said...

OK guys, here is a link that will explain Shniderman's past brushes with the law before Food & Friends:

He needs his salary to send his 2 children to exclusive private schools and he is just the usual leech in the non-profit sector.
Just think, a former leech of WWC is now in an elected office.