Ben Carson’s Nonprofit—Examining the Accuracy of a Media Attack on Salary

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October 31, 2015: Radar Online

As is the case with other presidential candidates, such as Donald Trump, Ben Carson has a foundation. Dr. Carson’s foundation, the Carson Scholars Fund, is twenty years old and has an education mission supplying scholarships and creating reading rooms in schools to support literacy. NPQ has previously written about Carson’s use of the example of this fund to prove he has negotiation skills up to the task of the presidency and about his false representation of the failure rate of nonprofits, but this newswire addresses not failures, but salary.

The board chair’s wife, Amy Warner, was hired in 2006 to be the executive director. In our unending conversation about overhead, her salary and her relationship to a board member is the issue in the article:

“Tax returns for the Carson Scholars Fund reveal that from 2000 to 2005, the organization paid the executive director $39,112 to $56,000. However, in 2006, the pay was nearly tripled when Amy Warner was hired for the gig. Her husband, Lee Warner, is currently Chairman of the Board for the organization. In 2013, Amy’s compensation was $130,688. In 2015, the national average for that position was around $69,963, according to Payscale.com. The Carson Scholar Fund gives $1,000 college scholarships to students in grades 4–11 who excel academically, and have a record community service. The 990 tax return for 2013, the most recently available, reveals that 510 students received $1,000 grants that year. Overall expenses for 2013 were $1,798,556 and net income was $523,469, with 23 percent of the total income going towards staff salaries.” [Emphasis added.]

The article contains a few inaccuracies. It states the ED’s pay nearly tripled when Mrs. Warner took over; the pay went from $46,154 to $104,558—sizeable, but not tripled. The national averages at Payscale.com are subjective, depending on the information entered. For the real revenue/budget, the median is $85,000, so $130,000 is credible at the 90th percentile, considering that revenue increased a million dollars after Mrs. Warner took the executive director position. Since she had been leading for eight successful years, especially during the critical recession period, there were pay increases, as there would be in the private sector.

The article listed the net income at $523,469. Another error; that number was the net gain over the year before, which is a nice increase! The revenue for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2013 was $2,322,025. Administration and fundraising expenses ran consistently around eight percent. They have invested assets around 8 million dollars.

Another mistake in the piece is that it called Amy Warner executive director; she is co-chief executive now. The organization is being led by Dr. Nancy S. Grasmick. Dr. Grasmick is eminently qualified to run a nonprofit that has an education mission. She was the State Superintendent of Maryland Public Schools for 20 years, with an undergraduate degree in elementary education and a Ph.D. in communication sciences.

The article also calls the position of executive director of a nonprofit a “cushy” job, a position so wrong it doesn’t even warrant a disputing statement here.

After the kind of review that would be done on any nonprofit, the main suggestion would be that Mr. Warner step down from the board while his wife is a paid employee or vice versa. Having one spouse as the board chair and the other as the executive director creates enormous potential for a lack of checks and balances, conflicts of interest, and odd power dynamics.—Marian Conway

  • Steve Bishop

    Thank you for so thoroughly rebuking what is certainly another politically motivated article. I hope your representation of the facts gets more press.

  • ViolinMom

    Glad that (and the Mannatech issue) are both finally cleared up. Thank you for writing this investigative article. The truth will prevail.

  • ruth

    the problem is, of course, that Carson is no passionate adherent to truth himself as the 9 out of 10 comment proved. This article does not support Carson but does try to clarify the issues as they relate to nonprofits.

  • Jeff Jenifer Leiendecker

    You are able to see other tax returns following the link below. You will notice in the beginning, in the early 2000’s, much money was spent on fundraising and computer equipment–no scholarships were awarded–only recognition of good students. https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/organizations/521851346

  • R.

    I’m a little confused by this article I must admit. It starts with Carson but is truly talking about Amy & Lee Warner or those who hired them. I don’t have the credentials, in this, to decipher and allocate blame but I will instead focus on nonprofit salaries.

    I’m definitely not one to take away a girls salary but $130,688 (2013) is too much for this position. Especially since this also means the higher-ups get even more. And it’s a fallacy to up a nonprofit employee’s pay every year “…considering revenue increased…” because ethically, pay practices in nonprofits should work differently from corporations. These numbers don’t even include or reflect individual employees transportation, meal or hotel costs.

    A nonprofit employee can get paid a substantial amount but ultimately, much like a teacher or politician, all nonprofit employees should be accountable to a salary cap. A salary cap can be reevaluated after 5 years to allow for economic inflation but shouldn’t be a motivating factor.

    Maybe we should define salaries of “nonprofit” more carefully, with more clarity? Maybe a minimum/maximum percent of profit? I don’t know about “making it law” but maybe?

    I most definitely agree that there should always be even more accountability if nepotism occurs in the workplace. And of course those employees should never write any checks 🙂

    I also agree with you regarding the statement: “The article also calls the position of executive director of a nonprofit a “cushy” job ” It most definitely is NOT a cushy job. I’ve been liaison, and in charge of fundraising, for a few different nonprofits and when you’re not working the job, you’re dreaming the job.

    Thank you for respecting the nonprofit and not belittling the jobs we do. I would never have to belittle an occupation to discuss salary misappropriation.

    Cheers, R