A small group of charity leaders earn as much as Canadian prime ministers

A small group of Canadian charity leaders in the environment, conservation and animal protection sectors are taking home compensation packages equal to, and in some cases higher than, the salaries of provincial premiers.

An analysis by The Canadian Press identified 17 charities whose top executives received annual compensation of between $200,000 and $250,000 or more, according to filings with the federal government made in 2022 and 2023.

The review focused on organizations recognized by the Canada Revenue Agency as registered charities in the “environment” and “animal protection” categories, which include several conservation organizations. The group of 17 with the highest salaries represents just over one percent of all charities in those two categories.

The $200,000 to $250,000 bracket was chosen as the limit because at the time it aligned with the compensation of Canada’s two highest-paid prime ministers: Ontario’s Doug Ford at $208,974 and Quebec’s François Legault at $208,200. Legault’s salary has since increased to $270,120 after the legislature’s own members voted for a 30 percent pay increase in June.

Data were obtained from each organisation’s T3010 registered charity information return forms. Compensation, as defined by the CRA, includes salaries, bonuses, fees, and all other benefits provided to employees.

The overwhelming majority of the 864 registered charities in the two sectors examined rely on volunteers or a modestly paid workforce. Nearly 59 percent of them have only volunteers and 14 percent have no employees earning more than $40,000. Another 15 percent have no employees earning more than $80,000.

The charity with the highest-paid executives was Ducks Unlimited Canada, based in Manitoba. Their 2023 return indicates that two people earned more than $350,000, three others received between $250,000 and $300,000, and four received compensation between $200,000 and $250,000. The organization has 565 full and part-time employees. Governments contributed just over $27 million to Ducks Unlimited during the year ending March 31, 2023, and a quarter of its $140 million in revenue came from donations.

Spokeswoman Janine Massey defended the pay packages in an email. “Ducks Unlimited Canada is Canada’s largest nature conservation organization…It is difficult to compare non-profit environmental organizations due to the wide variation in mission, scale and complexity of operations,” she said.

“We periodically conduct competitive remuneration reviews and adjust our remuneration accordingly to ensure we can attract and retain highly qualified staff.” Among organizations that responded to requests for comment, the competitiveness argument was frequently used to justify salaries.

Heads of 17 Canadian environmental charities raising significant compensation packages. #EnvironmentalCharities

Sylvie St-Onge, a management professor at Montreal’s HEC business school and an expert in compensation, governance and board management, said the green movement has become a small industry. “When they compare themselves, they will compare themselves to others in the industry who are like a core group of wealthy people,” she said.

At the David Suzuki Foundation in Vancouver, one manager received compensation between $250,000 and $300,000 for the year ending Aug. 31, 2022, and three others were in the $200,000 to $250,000 range. Spokesman Charles Bonhomme said the organization has always made it a priority to pay its employees fairly, noting that its offices “are located in the most expensive cities in Canada: Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.” The foundation employs just under a hundred people.

Bonhomme said he turned to “the expertise of a human resources consultancy” to help conduct “an organization-wide pay review.” She said recent personnel changes mean salaries published in the most recent publicly available report “no longer reflect our current team.”

World Wildlife Fund Canada employs approximately 110 people and nearly 80 per cent of its income comes from donations. One of its executives received compensation of between $250,000 and $300,000 for the year ending June 30, 2023, and two others received between $200,000 and $250,000. In its response, the organization said its compensation structure “is comparable to that of similar national charities, including in the field of the environment (…) We believe that to have the greatest possible protection, we must recruit the best people “.

Nature United had 36 Canadian employees, according to its 2022 statement. One manager received compensation between $250,000 and $300,000 and another between $200,000 and $250,000. Its communications director, Jacqueline Nunes, says salaries are based on “robust salary review processes” that ensure they are in the mid-range relative to peer organizations.

“As a non-profit organization, we take our finances very seriously and would not compensate leaders more than is necessary to ensure strong leadership, which is so crucial as we work towards a Canada where people and nature are united, and ecosystems, communities and economies are thriving,” he wrote in an email.

The Atlantic Salmon Federation, based in Saint-Andrews, N.B., had one employee earning between $200,000 and $250,000 in 2022. The federation, which employs 32 people, earned 22 percent of its $6 million in income from government sources and 16 percent from various donations in 2022.

“We recently completed an external compensation review, which found our salary structure to be competitive with other medium- and large-sized Canadian NGOs focused on conservation and the environment,” said federation spokesperson Neville Crabbe. “Whether people work in the private sector, for the government or for non-governmental organizations, they should be fairly and reasonably compensated for the quality of their work.”

St-Onge, however, suggested that the high salaries could be sending a message that is at odds with the public image of these charities, which are ostensibly there to help the planet.

“When we talk about sustainable development, we also talk about social responsibility. It is like sending a contradictory message with the values ​​that should exist,” he said. “Somewhere there is a board of directors that either did not do its job or found a justification for it.”

According to her, for these organizations it would be preferable to look for people motivated by a vocation and not by an ambition. “In these organizations, what is needed is not so much the best in terms of experience, but the best in terms of mobilization, faith, belief in the fulfillment of the mission: someone who does not come so much to get the money. “

Other organizations with compensation in the upper bracket that did not respond to a request for comment include the Nature Conservancy of Canada, which in 2022 paid one employee between $300,000 and $350,000 and three between $200,000 and $250,000, and the Alberta Conservation Association, which had one employee in the $300,000 to $350,000 range and two in the $200,000 to $250,000 range.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 4, 2024.

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