Local Newspaper Researches and Explains the Nonprofit Sector in its Region

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July 20, 2013; Tri-City Herald


The Tri-Cities of Southeastern Washington State are Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland, creating a metropolitan area of a little over a quarter-million people. Although the three cities are located in the same state as the Gates Foundation, the philanthropic community of the area is another thing altogether. A recent study by the Tri-City Herald yielded several articles trying to explain the finances, operations, and programs of local nonprofits and foundations.

Not surprisingly, while top Tri-Cities nonprofits reported rising amounts of charitable donations, they also told the Herald that their finances were challenged by increasing service demands. The series discussed the question of measuring nonprofits by overhead expenses, citing the letter from three charity watchdogs that averred that overhead is an inadequate measure of nonprofit quality, though also suggesting that most major nonprofits in the region were well below the 35 percent overhead/fundraising benchmark typically suggested by the Better Business Bureau and pointing out that the charities allocated overhead costs differently; for example, some classify office expenses as program, and others as overhead.

There was a brief article on the highest paid local nonprofit leaders and one on the salaries of foundation CEOs. This is not a high salary region of the country for nonprofits. Among operating nonprofits, the top reported salary was $293,000 in 2011 for the head of Junior Achievement’s statewide operations. Earning salaries over $100,000 were the head of the United Way of Benton and Franklin Counties ($179,000), the executive director of Goodwill Industries of the Columbia (reported as $167,397 for 2011, but the executive retired in June, which may mean that the annualized salary would have been greater), and top staff at Second Harvest Food Bank of the Inland Northwest, Columbia Industries, Tri-Cities Chaplaincy, Senior Life Resources Northwest, Boys & Girls Clubs of Benton and Franklin Counties, The ARC of Tri-Cities and Tri-City Union Gospel Mission.

The coverage of foundation salaries was a little difficult, as most of the foundations discussed in the article are really supporting organizations helping related groups such as the Tri-Cities Cancer Center, local hospitals, and other institutions. Staff are generally paid for by the supported organizations and not from the charitable money raised by the foundation/supporting organizations.

Give the Herald credit for trying to tackle some difficult-to-explain issues, given the complexity and diversity of the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. It would be very useful for other newspapers to explore their local nonprofit sectors and explain for their readers who they are, how they operate, and what they accomplish based on the relatively small amount of charitable dollars they receive compared to the ever-increasing needs of the communities they serve.—Rick Cohen