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The environment desk at Aspen Public Radio covers issues in the Roaring Fork Valley and throughout the state of Colorado including water use and quality, impact of recreation, population growth and oil and gas development. APR’s Environment Reporter is Elizabeth Stewart-Severy.

RMI Tops Environmental, Mid Size Charities for Executive Pay

Rocky Mountain Institute

A new report on non-profit organizations shows charities in the Mountain West have the among the lowest pay for high level staff among nonprofits across the country.   The survey by Charity Navigator found one standout here.  The top official at the environmental non-profit, Rocky Mountain Institute, was recently paid much more than counterparts at other non-profits, in fact, many times more.  (You can read the entire Charity Navigator report here.)

Reporter: The report covers 2011, the most recent yearly data available. That year, Rocky Mountain Institute paid its top officer far more than any other environmental charity in the country. Sandra Miniutti is Vice President of Marketing and Chief Financial Officer for Charity Navigator.

Sandra Miniutti: “We found that the Rocky Mountain Institute had the highest compensation out of all of the environmental charities that we evaluated. That compensation is just over 600,000 dollars a year.”

Reporter: The median… or mid-range pay... for top officers at environmental groups is usually a bit more than a hundred thousand dollars. Again, Sandra Miniutti.

Miniutti: “In addition, in looking at the charity’s budget, it is outside the norm of what charities of a comparable size pay as well. Charities in about eleven to twelve million dollar range of a budget typically pay their CEOs two hundred to two hundred fifty thousand dollars a year.”

Reporter: In response… Rocky Mountain Institute says there’s a few key details to keep in mind. Current RMI CEO, Jules Kortenhorst, started in September of this year. And he says, in 2011, the group’s principal officer had a special situation.

Jules Kortenhorst: “So in fact it is not just a salary payment; her salary is much lower than what was reported. But it also includes a contribution to her pension plan, reflecting her fifteen years of service to the organization during which a pension plan was not in place.”

Reporter: The person receiving that money was Executive Director Marty Pickett. Her base salary was about a third of the total amount, around two hundred thousand dollars. Kortenhorst describes the additional retirement check as a one-time payment. RMI co-founder AmoryLovins also received a pension payment that year. Kortenhorst says RMI strives to be transparent on staff pay. And….

Kortenhorst: “The essence of RMI is we are a think tank that aims to actually drive impacts on the energy transformation through the caliber of our work. So we recruit very capable and bright people who have extensive experience in the energy sector, so we do compensate our people in reflecting their history and background in the industry.”

Reporter: RMI will post its next round of executive pay in November. Unlike other charities, the 2011 executive pay did not include an ambiguous “other” category and the bonus for Pickett was significantly smaller than the other highest paid staff at other nonprofits. Miniutti says Charity Navigator reviews nonprofits to help those who give to better understand the overall financial picture of the organization.

Credit Charity Navigator

Miniutti: So, Rocky Mountain Institute get two out of four stars. They do quite well in terms of accountability and transparency. However their financial health score is just one star. That’s primarily because their revenue has been declining, and thus their spending on programs have been declining, and their rainy day fund has been a little bit low. So in terms of their financial sustainability they’re struggling a little bit, and we think that’s important for donors to know in considering which charities they want to invest in."

Reporter: Nonprofits concerned about their ratings, says Miniutti, can provide more information to Charity Navigator… and in some cases boost their rating.