September 12, 2010; Source: Courier Journal | Too many people in the nonprofit sector seem to be reading and actually believing the tripe that when it comes to nonprofit salaries and luxury perks, anything goes. The thinking goes that nonprofit executives should treat themselves just as well as corporate leaders do for themselves. We certainly don’t advocate for poverty level wages, but clearly enough is enough.

Without commenting on the self-serving, self-absolving character of some of the anything-goes crowd, we take note of a nonprofit in Louisville called Dismas Charities. For those who might be interested, Dismas was one of the two thieves crucified with Jesus, according to the Gospel of Nicodemus (unnamed in the Gospel of Luke), Dismas was the “good thief” or the “penitent thief,” thus the frequent appearance of “Dismas” in the name of nonprofits running halfway houses or transitional housing for former prisoners on parole or probation.

Headquartered in Louisville, Ky., but with programs in a dozen states, Dismas Charities seems to have taken the “thief” notion a little too far. According to the Courier Journal, in 2008 Dismas Charities paid its CEO $600,000 and its executive vice president $452,000 in salary and benefits.

In addition, the organization seems to like sports, spending $137,000 on luxury suites at the KFC Yum! Arena and Papa John’s Stadium. Dismas is no penny ante group to be sure, with a $36.6 million budget in 2008, with 99 percent of its revenues from state and federal contracts. The organization initially defended its patronage of luxury suites at the University of Louisville football and basketball locations saying that the money came from “investment income, not tax dollars,” and the execs said that they would not apologize for the allegedly misused money. Perhaps the execs at Dismas Charities failed to remember that the investment income they get is based on the investment of tax dollars and charitable donations.

The Lexington Herald Leader called the “no public money” explanation “contrived” and the behavior of the top execs “brazen”. That income is supposed to be used for the mission and purpose of the nonprofit; it’s not supposed to be walking around money for nonprofit high-rollers in luxury sports suites.

Under attack by legislators and the press, and criticized by the director of the Kentucky Nonprofit Leadership Initiative at University of Kentucky as “a real anomaly in our sector,” Dismas begrudgingly issued an overdue and reluctant apology for the suites, though not apparently for their salaries.

The biblical Dismas and the thief to Jesus’s left, Gestas, were horrified at the murderous ways of Barabbas. As nonprofits, we should be disgusted with the profligate and dissolute behavior of the Dismas Charities execs, beyond the pale of the “we’re underpaid and deserve better” defense.—Rick Cohen