Salary Story Shows Bias



With respect to the recent article in the (Aug. 29) LB Indy regarding local non-profits, there are a few significant problems with the reporter’s angle and the overall article I’d like to address.

First, while it is of course proper to seek fair and correct compensation in non-profits, the issue is complex and it is incumbent on the reporter addressing such a nuanced subject to adhere to careful journalistic standards, including using reliable sources. If factually inaccurate or biased reporting occurs, as was the case for this article, you run the risk of unjustifiably disparaging non-profits and individuals who are vital members of our community.

The article makes the comparison that non-profit executives make “25% more than the city’s mean job salary.” People should understand (and I think most indeed do) that executives at non-profits are in charge of complex organizations which require considerable talent, experience and character to effectively manage. The article’s comparison to the city’s mean job salary is a flawed rationale. You can’t compare a non-profit executive — often in charge of numerous employees, grants, donors, initiatives, operations, financials, etc. – with the average city job salary, which includes administrative assistants, restaurant servers, etc. as well as executives in an overall average. A comparison of non-profit executives to private sector executives would have been a more appropriate and objective approach to the article – and likely would have shown a considerable pay cut taken by non-profit executives vs. their private counterparts.

Though I am not familiar with many of the people and organizations on the list, during the course of my 13 years working on behalf of environmental causes, I am very familiar with the work of one of them – Marisla Foundation. Their work is highly esteemed for its prudent effectiveness and its positive impacts have touched the lives of each of us in Laguna Beach and also critical initiatives throughout the world. With regard to the compensation of the executive director and the article’s implying that it is excessive, he is deeply respected in the environmental and human services fields for his immense experience and astute grasp of esoteric environmental and human services issues. He has also worked for Marisla for more than 20 years. His compensation in the private sector for his skill, track record and job responsibilities would far exceed his current compensation.

The article is factually incorrect at several points regarding Marisla’s grantmaking. Had the author of the article reviewed the foundation’s filing with the IRS more closely, they would have determined that many statements in the article were inaccurate. In addition, claiming that Marisla’s grant process “reads like a do-not-disturb” sign is a false and subjective inference unbecoming a supposed news article. Marisla has a staff of two people and the organization’s focus is limited to what the private, voluntary donor is passionate about: human services and the environment. Like most family foundations, Marisla utilizes a focused grant application so they avoid being deluged by thousands of applications for needs outside their grantmaking focus.

As with any area of our economy, it is true that certain non-profit corporations are deserving of a closer look and that is of course good and appropriate. But let’s keep the facts and analysis straight to ensure accurate portrayals of the many transparent and ethical non-profits in Laguna, like Marisla Foundation, who have done so much to better our community and our world.


Derek Ostensen, Laguna Beach

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