Thursday, April 24, 2014

To Heads of Faith-Based Non-Profits: What Would Jesus Earn?

Televison ministry Joyce Meyer's home
"A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher."
- Jesus

We've all heard stories of televangelists and other Christian-based ministries whose founders and leaders have become very, very wealthy. Also about how CEO's of corporations typically earn hundreds of times more than their average workers.

But how about ordinary faith-based and denomination-run organizations we support?

I recently became interested in this question after learning that the board of an agency to which I was a frequent contributor had recently increased the salary and benefits package of its CEO to over $200,000.

That may not seem like that much to some of you, and I have learned since that in some circles that's considered to be on the low side for the head of a typical multi-million dollar non-profit--and is seen as what's necessary to keep good people in positions of major responsibility.

But how does this square with the example and teachings of Jesus? How did his first century followers reimburse their key leaders and missionaries, key people like the apostles Peter and Paul?

There is of course New Testament precedent for providing financial support to those who generously give their time and efforts in the work of the church. But would first century churches have shelled out the equivalent of today's six figures when the average member may have earned less than half as much?

Earlier this week several of my local friends and colleagues got together for breakfast to mull over this question. The five of us came up with the idea of gathering more information on salaries and compensation that could be shared with other donors as they determine how to best invest their charitable gifts.

Here are the kinds of questions we are considering asking of of organizations:  

1) In light of growing concerns about the gap between worker and CEO pay in general in the U.S., do you have a policy that governs the salary/compensation differential between your highest and lowest paid workers? If so, what is the ratio of your highest paid to lowest paid staff? 

2) In light of ongoing concerns about the gap between rich and poor in the U.S. and between us and the rest of the world, what salary levels do you believe to be acceptable for heads of organizations such as yours? Upper 5% of U.S. wage earners? Upper 1% of worldwide earners?

3) What New Testament or other factors have you considered in establishing the above ratios and for deciding on just and appropriate levels of income?

Feel free to comment below if you think gathering this kind of information would be a good idea--or not.

Here's a link to 990 IRS disclosure forms required by law for non-profit agencies. 
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