Monday, April 7, 2008

"Hired Help" or Co-Owner?

Today, I read a study sponsored by the Annie Casey Foundation about the future of non-profit leadership: Ready to Lead? Next Generation Leaders Speak Out. On its Key Findings page, the report states "Nonprofit executive directors are burning out and leaving the sector in alarming numbers. Meanwhile, emerging leaders are thinking twice about stepping into the breach." While citing various reasons for this conundrum, the report does not cite the role played by Boards of Directors who do not treat executive directors as their peers, their partners, their co-owners.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of my dismissal by City Harvest's Board was realizing they saw me as the "hired help" rather than a co-owner of the organization. Because I was paid a salary - a much too low salary, for that matter - I was expendable. I could be fired, with no notice and no consideration for the time, love and money I invested over 11 years. I was not their equal, I was merely the person they used to make themselves look good. Success has many parents, and the success of my vision, leadership and hard work led many Board members to adopt it as their own.

My investment of time was substantial. I lived City Harvest 24 hours a day. And as its leader, I built City Harvest into an incredibly successful organization in all ways. When I was interviewed by the Chairman of the Board of Citizens for NYC, he said that what I accomplished was nothing short of miraculous. And yet, after 11 years, my salary was just a tad over $150,000 - less than 1.5% of the cash operating budget and .6% of the total budget. CEOs of $25 million companies certainly make more than that. The severance I got amounted to 1 week for every year of service, and the Board told me they felt that was generous. The same week, Carly Fiorina also was fired by the HP Board. She left with millions and millions of dollars in severance and stock options.

Essentially, I subsidized the operations of City Harvest by taking less pay than I was worth. If I monetized my time, my financial investment in the organization is substantial - certainly worthy of my being considered a co-owner. Yet the structure of non-profits gives all power to Boards and no power to executives. My dedication to a cause was taken for granted instead of appreciated. My contribution was ignored.

Given the choice of making money and being treated badly, or making no money and being treated badly, is it any wonder younger people find non-profit leadership positions unappealing?

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