News and analysis
March 12, 2010

Senators Call On Boys & Girls Clubs of America to Justify Pay and Spending

Sen. Charles Grassley, the Iowa Republican, is a key member of the Senate Finance Committee.

Four Republican senators have asked Boys & Girls Clubs of America to provide details about what it spends on executive compensation, lobbying, perks, travel, and other items, saying they are concerned about “a top-heavy organization demonstrating questionable management of hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars and charitable donations.”

The senators­—Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, John Cornyn of Texas, Charles Grassley of Iowa, and Jon Kyl of Arizona—said they wanted the answers so they could consider changes to Senate legislation that would provide $425-million to the youth organization over five years.

In a letter to Robert J. Bach, the Boys & Girls Clubs board chairman, the senators said they were troubled by some of the group’s expenses at a time that it reported a $13-million loss on its 2008 Form 990 informational tax return.

The senators complained in a press release that the organization’s president, Roxanne Spillett, earned more than $900,000 in compensation in 2008, “even while local boys and girls clubs nationwide close their doors due to budget shortfalls.”

They also asked about reported spending that year of more than $4-million on travel, $1.6-million on conferences and meetings, and more than $540,000 on lobbying.

The Senate legislation, S. 2924, which has been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, would reauthorize through 2015 an annual grant that the Boys & Girls Clubs of America receives from the Justice Department. The original program was set up in 1996 to help the group establish new clubs in “public housing and other distressed areas.” But the new legislation says the money should go to improve the quality of educational, health, youth development, and other services at both new and existing clubs “with special emphasis on reducing high school dropout rates.”

The senators criticized that change of focus, saying that Congress originally intended to provide seed money to start clubs in neighborhoods that especially needed them, but now would be providing “a perpetual source of funds to sustain the Boys and Girls Clubs.”

According to the group’s 2008 Form 990, Ms. Spillett earned $988,591 in pay, bonuses, benefits, and deferred compensation. She earned $510,744 in base pay and bonuses—compared with a median of $361,538 in The Chronicle’s survey of executive compensation at more than 300 of the country’s biggest charities and foundations that was published last October.

The Boys & Girls Club of America, in Atlanta, said in a statement that Ms. Spillett, who became president in 1996, had presided while the organization doubled its revenue and the number of young people served.  It said her base salary of $360,774 in 2008 had not increased since 2006 and that the board had authorized $150,000 in incentive pay based on performance.

The group said its board's human resources committee worked with an independent consulting firm, Mercer, to assess the marketplace in setting Ms. Spillett's total compensation. Mercer "found that it was consistent with prevailing and current market practices of similarly situated national nonprofit organizations," it said.

The travel expenses cited by the senators covered the activities of more than 350 national staff members "who make thousands of visits to local clubs, providing consulting and technical support year round," it added.

The group said it had fully complied with all government rules since it began receiving federal money, including an annual audit. It said almost 92 percent of the grant it received in 2008 was passed through to local clubs.

Other senators have a more positive view of the Boys & Girls Clubs. The bill approved by the Judiciary Committee calls the group “a positive force in the communities it serves” for more than 100 years and praises its work in schools, public-housing sites, and Native American land. Further federal spending would help the group continue its efforts to cut crime, drug use, and obesity and improve educational and job opportunities for young people, it says.

It notes that the organization has grown from 1,810 clubs serving 2.4 million young people in 1990 to 4,387 clubs serving 4.5 million young people today.