DALLAS - Nancy Brinker, founder and chief executive of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, took home $417,000 in salary in 2010, according to financial documents posted on the charity’s Website, and paid 50 top executives more than $100,000 each.
Brinker, who also serves on Komen’s board of directors, traveled first class on airlines with the explicit permission of the board she chairs.
The expenses are disclosed in financial reports on the charity’s website. Komen operations have been under intense scrutiny since last week when a plan to stop giving grants to Planned Parenthood triggered blistering criticism of Komen’s leadership.
Top executives at the nation’s largest charities, such as the Boy Scouts of America, the United Way and Easter Seals, earn more than Brinker, according to an annual ranking by Charity Navigator.
“For the small handful of charities that big, it’s normal,’’ Charity Navigator’s president and chief executive Ken Berger said of Brinker’s salary.
He said the first-class air travel is more of a concern because most donors want to feel that executives put the organization’s mission above their own comfort.
“Even though there’s nothing illegal about it, it does raise questions about the efficiency of a charity if they’re spending funds for first class,’’ Berger said.
He said Komen has gotten a lot of negative feedback in the past week on a website that tracks comments from donors and employees. But the organization itself has generally earned good marks for fundraising and program expenses.
James Abruzzo, a management and global business instructor at Rutgers Business School, said the picture that emerges from the Komen documents does raise concerns, however.
The fact that Komen is making severance payments to four top executives is a cause for concern about the way the organization is run, Abruzzo said.
As for Brinker’s salary and first-class travel, while it may be deserved, it probably sends the wrong message to potential donors, he added.
“When you’re trying to raise money from other people, it sends a bad signal,’’ he said.
The recent controversy makes Komen the “new Coke of nonprofits,’’ according to Advertising Age, which said Komen’s decision and its rapid reversal “showed how a brand can boomerang from one of the most loved into one of the most reviled in a head-snapping two days.’’
Critics blamed politics for Komen’s attempt to cut off Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions, but not with funds from Komen. And some abortion opponents took credit for persuading Komen to drop Planned Parenthood.
But Brinker insisted Komen, which she founded in her sister’s memory 30 years ago, was merely trying to be a good financial steward, noting that Planned Parenthood is under investigation by a U.S. House member.
Even when Komen reversed itself and said Planned Parenthood funding could continue, some donors questioned the charity’s leadership. Recent turnover among top staff have been reported by the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, and linked to discussions about cutting off Planned Parenthood.
But the turnover seems to have preceded those discussions, too; the latest financial report shows that Komen making severance payments to four people, three of them former staffers who each earned more than $100,000 annually.
Compensation for top officers, directors, trustees and other key employees was $2.7 million in 2010. Other salaries were listed at $17 million, not including millions more for payroll taxes, pension payments and other benefits.
The majority of Komen’s revenue appeared to come from contributions and grants. It also collected funds from affiliates and fundraising events.
Komen also funded more than $72 million in grants and aid within the U.S., often to medical centers for research and education.
Another $4 million was spent outside the U.S. in grants of varying sizes across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and South America.
Lori Stahl is a Dallas-based journalist. Follow her on Twitter at @LoriStahl.