To document federal compliance and provide status updates for some of the city's largest LGBT and AIDS nonprofit organizations, Windy City Times ( WCT ) launched a survey of non-government organizations [ NGOs ] in November 2011.
The newspaper requested financial, staff and board data from more than 20 local organizations.
As tax-exempt organizations, almost all nonprofits are required to file annual information returns with the Internal Revenue Service ( IRS ) ; those with annual budgets of $25,000 or less are exempt. These returns, called Form 990, include data on revenue, expense, director compensation and salaries for the five highest-paid employees.
All IRS returns are due on the 15th day of the fifth month after the end of an organization's fiscal year. In layman's terms: A 2011 return for an organization whose fiscal year ends June 30, 2012, will not be filed until November 15, 2012.
As such, Windy City Times requested that participating organizations complete a questionnaire we titled "Survey of LGBT and AIDS non-profit agencies 2011." The document requested data similar to that found on Form 990; it was meant to bridge the gap between recent filings ( available on GuideStar.org ) and most up-to-date information, as well as provide insight into board and staff demographics.
Members of the public have a right to access the annual Form 990 returns and accompanying documentation. Organizations may charge reasonable fees to cover copying and mailing costs, but must share data publicly.
Most groups, including the Center on Halsted, AIDS Foundation of Chicago ( AFC ) , Chicago House, the Heartland Alliance, Association for Latino Men of Action ( ALMA ) , Affinity and TPAN, responded quickly to the WCT survey.
Others experienced delays for several reasons. The South Side Help Center prioritized budget cuts, difficult staff layoffs and 25th anniversary preparations while The Civil Rights Agenda, which had not yet organized 2011 data, needed time to compile and provide a response.
Howard Brown Health Center did not provide the requested 2011 data, which it said was still being prepared. The healthcare organization, instead, promised to release a press announcement when its Form 990 is submitted.
The organization did say it is currently shifting funding methods, moving toward "a more sustainable model where more than 50 percent of revenue is derived from earned income and social enterprise operations," according to Alonzo Brown, senior communications director.
Equality Illinois did not provide salary information for its five highest-paid employees. The organization said the data was "publicly available" and submitted to WCT copies of its 2010 Form 990. Windy City Times was unable to procure 2011 salary data.
For various financial and organizational reasons, several nonprofits were unable to partake in the survey.
Lambda Legal, a Chicago outpost of a national organization, offered to provide data; however, the group's organizational structure would make it difficult to isolate Chicago data. For instance, the five highest-paid employees are not based in Chicago, and board members are part of the national organization ( as opposed to a local branch ) . National data is available on Lambda Legal's Website, www.lambdalegal.org .
Since Gerber/Hart is currently undergoing board transitions and readying for a move, it was not possible to garner clear, up-to-date financial data.
Smaller organizations, such as Soy Quien Soy ( a newly minted empowerment group ) and GenderJUST, are not registered 501c3 or 501c4 organizations.
"We have never been a registered non-profit and ran only on grants that could fund our basic operations," said GenderJUST Policy Director Yasmin Nair ( full Nair is a senior writer at WCT ) . "In 2011, we lost a considerable amount of funding due to the economic downturn, and we no longer have any paid staff…. We are a volunteer-run and -driven grassroots organization."
WCT sent requests to Amigas Latinas and the Chicago Black Gay Men's Caucus, but did not receive responses.
Executive directors' salaries have become a national hot-button issue in recent years, as private citizens have complained about excessive incomes, perks and bonuses.
The IRS requires that executives and top staffers be paid "fair and reasonable" compensation; however, no universal standard or formula exists. Ultimately, determining whether a salary is "fair and reasonable" is a fairly subjective practice.
The IRS suggests that executive director compensation should be comparable to salaries found at nonprofits with similar budget and scope. The nonprofit Foundation Group said several factors are taken into account: job description, level of education and experience, compensation averages in your area, number of hours worked and overall budget.
Some have suggested standardized formulas ( e.g. executive directors' salaries should never exceed 20 percent of an organization's total revenue ) . It is difficult to implement such streamlined criteria, however. A nonprofit with a $100,000 budget will have vastly different capabilities than a nonprofit bringing in $100 million. Twenty percent of those budgets is $20,000 and $20 million, respectively.
If salaries exceed "fair and reasonable" amounts, the IRS penalizes an organization with fines, or in extreme cases, revocation of tax-exempt status. Fines are more likely.
Windy City Times isolated executive directors' salaries and linked them to overall budget, for comparison's sake.
At the links below, you'll find detailed charts highlighting budget, salary, staff and board information for each participating nonprofit. Rather than try to compare the various service and advocacy organizations apples-to-apples, which would yield superficial results, Windy City Times has opted to present raw data for our readers.
All data, unless otherwise noted, was provided by the organization in question.
The non-profit charts in the print edition of Windy City Times continue at the following links: