Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Career Curveballs: How to Handle a Bad Boss

Originally published on Linkedin on April 28, 2014.

Before I joined Charity Navigator, I had a few pretty unethical CEOs I worked for. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that the MAJORITY of charities are run by well-meaning people. However, there are also some bad apples, just like in any group of people and any type of organization. There is also research and other compelling evidence that documents this problem specifically within the nonprofit sector.
In my case, I’ve worked for a few charity leaders whose primary focus was to line their own pockets while providing low salaries and benefits to their staff, as well as inadequate support for the programs and services serving the people the organization was supposed to support. However, I have also worked for and with amazingly dedicated professionals and volunteers who are all about achieving results to meet the mission, and doing things with the highest ethical standards in mind. Based on my almost 30 years working in the nonprofit sector I have thought much about the twists and turns of my career and what I could learn from the path I have been on. Charity Navigator and now LinkedIn have also afforded this opportunity to share with you some of the lessons I have learned along the way. Here is a list of some of my writings on the subject to help you with bad supervisors, if you encounter them, as well as my thoughts on the policies and principles to follow to help you excel. I also recommend starting with this great general resource on how to maximize the possibility that your organization follows good ethical practices:
1. Principles of Good Governance and Ethical Practice – is a wonderful free guide developed by the Independent Sector in consultation with many charities over a number of years. There is also a workbook to help you find additional resources and track your progress in following all the ethical practices they recommend.
Let’s never forget that supervisors and especially CEOs who do bad things do not just rip off donors (although that is quite serious in and of itself), they also demoralize staff (sometimes causing great people to leave the sector), they damage the quality of services (causing some people to get sick or even die because the quality of care is so below standard) and they damage the OVERALL public trust. They do not just damage the public trust for their organizations but for the entire social sector and all of us who are working in it for the greater good. We need to call them out more aggressively and give them no quarter.
Let’s also never forget that the vast majority of people who work in the nonprofit sector are dedicated to serving others and giving of themselves. This is a truly noble and honorable profession and I believe that most people who work in nonprofits have the personal character and integrity to do the right thing. The majority of charities that we evaluate at Charity Navigator are rated good or exceptional. That is because, among other things, the majority of those who do this work are in it for the right reasons. I salute all of you who fit that profile and hope your career does not have too many curveballs. I also wish you many home runs in your efforts to make the world a better place.
Photo: Tim (and Julie) Wilson/Flickr


Toni Goldfarb said...

Re your comment, "I’ve worked for a few charity leaders whose primary focus was to line their own pockets while providing low salaries and benefits to their staff," I think this point is glossed over on Charity Navigator. Many charities get 4* even though the CEO & other top people get many hundred thousand dollars in salary. It's easier for very big charities to show that a high 6-figure salary is just a small percentage of their funds, and so get a good rating. However, these "non-profits" are not reporting the salaries for the low-level employees who really do the work.

I suggest that you add to your analysis some data on what percent of salary dollars goes to the top-level employees (include data on the $ range of their salaries) plus the same data for lower-level employees and a range of their salaries. If a charity's focus is "doing good," don't you think there should also be attention to doing good for all employees?

Ken Berger said...


I appreciate your feedback but must disagree on one point, while agreeing on another! First, the disagreement part. Charity Navigator lists the salary of every CEO for the organizations we rate and we conduct an annual CEO compensation study that critically assesses those salaries. The fact that a charity gets a four star rating with a “high” CEO salary is because we believe that on the primary metrics of performance in the two areas we currently rate - finance and governance/best practices (currently called accountability and transparency on the site) - these charities are performing above standard.

Furthermore, the complexities of CEO salaries include a variety of measures that an independent consultant must consider including geography, cause area, agency budget as well as the specific experience of the person who is in the position. That is not accessible to us so it is not possible to include the salary question into the rating directly. However we do consider whether or not best practices are used to set CEO salaries as we indicate in our methodology:

"Process for determining CEO compensation: This process indicates that the organization has a documented policy that it follows year after year. The policy should indicate that an objective and independent review process of the CEO's compensation has been conducted which includes benchmarking against comparable organizations. We check to be sure that the charity has reported on its Form 990 its process for determining its CEO pay."

On the other hand, I COMPLETELY agree with you that the question of salaries for “lower” level staff is a tremendous problem and it is often ignored in the Pallotta type fixation on CEO salaries. I have written a lot about this on this blog. The solution I believe is to focus on results. To get good results charities will need to pay staff well and appropriately at all levels.


Anonymous said...

I heard that Gallop did a poll on 1M workers a few years back and found that the top reason people leave jobs is because of a bad boss. I completely agree that often times, a bad boss may actually be very well-intentioned. I found an app at that helps you solve bad boss problems. It personalizes an eBook based on profiles for you and your boss and tells you how to use neuroscience to have a better boss relationship. Very cool