The Forward created its annual survey of executive compensation in Jewish nonprofits to enable our readers to make informed choices about their own philanthropic giving and to hold leaders accountable for their pay and performance. That’s what we do in America. If the salary of the occupant of the Oval Office is public information, surely we ought to know the take-home pay of the head of the local federation or university. Purely religious organizations are exempt from these reporting requirements, as they are exempt from other strictures that govern life in the nonprofit world.
As for the rest of us — and that includes the Forward Association — transparency is part of that public contract. What’s disheartening is to encounter the reluctance and avoidance on the part of some nonprofits to do more than they absolutely, positively must under the law. So, for example, 15 months after assuming the position of president of the Jewish Federations of North America, we still don’t know how much Jerry Silverman earns. He’s doing nothing illegal by staying mum until the next filing deadline in 2011. He may be worth every penny of whatever is his salary. The information will come out, eventually. But it behooves a leader who is shaping the future of the Jewish people, who asks for our money and our trust, to be more forthcoming.
This latest survey also shows the persistent gender gap in Jewish nonprofit leadership, in promotions and pay. Women hold only 12% of the top leadership posts, and in those positions earn only 67 cents for every dollar in a man’s paycheck. This communal disgrace has been much discussed on this page, and we won’t let it go until there is real progress in opening up opportunities for women, in providing equal pay for equal work, and in allowing the entire community to benefit from the full range of its talent pool.
Ultimately, Jewish nonprofits don’t just enter into a contract with the federal government. They have a covenant of sorts with the Jewish people. We rely on these institutions to feed the hungry, care for the sick and elderly, educate our children, advocate for our causes, lead us spiritually and represent us on the national and international stage. It is up to those who contribute to these organizations — who benefit from their services and depend on their voices — in turn to invest in their success and hold them accountable for it.
Transparency only is effective if the information that is disclosed enables thought, evaluation and action. In other words, as your mailbox jams with end-of-the-year solicitations, use the data provided here — and whatever else you can find — to inform your contribution choices, to decide whether an organization spends your money wisely, and reflects the best in Jewish values.
And if not, raise your voice and demand better. Change won’t happen any other way.