Target 8: Mo. Humane Society Director Pay Raises Questions

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ST. LOUIS - A Target 8 investigation revealed the nonprofit Humane Society of Missouri's President Kathryn Warnick has been paid a total of almost $800,000 in compensation and benefits in the past two years--while the organization ran a deficit between $500,000 and $800,000.  

The Humane Society of Missouri (HSMO) is one of three primary animal rescue shelters in St. Louis and covers animal rescues across the state.  According to IRS Form 990s--tax returns nonprofits file each fiscal year--the organization operated with about an $18 million total revenue in each of the past two years.

The organization's most recently-filed tax return revealed that last year, Warnick was paid about $280,000 in compensation and all benefits. The year before, she was paid almost $500,000--including about $230,000 in deferred compensation owed to her because of what HSMO's Communications Director Jeane Jae deemed "an accounting error" that occurred in previous years. 

Neither Warnick nor any of HSMO's board members would answer KOMU 8's questions on or off camera about her pay, but Jae did issue KOMU 8 an e-mailed statement.  

She explained, "HSMO saw a 38% increase in the number of stray animals received and for which care was provided...The current president voluntarily elected to take a 20% decrease in salary in each of the past two years to help the organization weather the recession," Jae wrote.

But, Jae explained, "To ensure salaries are in line with industry norms, the executive committee periodically hires an outside independent organization to compare executive compensation of other local charities and similar-sized non-profits throughout the U.S.  The current president's salary is in line with those norms." 

In looking for these "norms," KOMU 8 discovered that while the president of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Wayne Pacelle, made a salary similar to Warnick's, he operates an organization with about eight times HSMO's revenue.  He also lives in Washington D.C., where the cost of living is one-and-a-half times higher than in St. Louis.  

HSMO said it and HSUS have different structures and missions and thus cannot be compared. Jae suggested KOMU 8 instead look at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals--the ASPCA.  

Though ASPCA President Edwin Sayres earned more than $500,000 in compensation and all benefits last year, the ASPCA's revenue is seven-and-a-half times greater than HSMO's.  The organization also had about a $13 million surplus last year.  The organization is based in New York City, where the cost of living is nearly twice what it is in St. Louis.

In terms of other similar cities in the Midwest, Nebraska Humane Society Executive Director Judy Varner made about $180,000 in salary and all benefits, while the organization operated in about a $500,000 surplus. 

In looking at local organizations, KOMU 8 discovered the former executive director of the Central Missouri Humane Society (CMHS), Dr. Alan Allert, made about $60,000 in compensation and all benefits last year, and Columbia Second Chance's executives all reported they made nothing.

"Everyone that works at our shelter does it for the love of helping Mid-Missouri's adoptable pets. We're not there for the high-end salary," CMHS Shelter Relations Coordinator Colin LaVaute said.

KOMU 8 analyzed the Form 990 of the Animal Protective Association of Missouri--based in St. Louis with HSMO.  Executive Director Steve Kaufman earned about $90,000 last year while the organization got out of its prior year's deficit.

"It's very hard to be successful if you don't have people that are talented enough to do those goals. So, sometimes that talent does cost money, and as long as it's not an overwhelming percentage of the budget, I can't imagine that it's drowning any of these agencies," Kaufman said.

But, the only of the three primary animal rescue organizations in St. Louis that didn't succumb to a deficit in the past two years is the one whose executives earned the least -- Stray Rescue of St. Louis.

As the founder and president of Stray Rescue of St. Louis, Randy Grim made about $48,000 this past fiscal year--a fraction of the group's total revenue of about $2,500,000.  He also earned less than what he pays some of his employees--a factor that distinguishes Stray Rescue from HSMO, although both Grim and Warnick made about 1.5% of their organizations' total revenues last year.

"I have to think of the cost to save the animals, and with $2 million going strictly to medical care that we have to pay for," Grim said. "It's hard for me to justify a large salary.  Plus, it's charity -- so, you know, you don't come to Stray Rescue hoping to become rich. You become rich within your heart and your soul...You want your money going to these guys. I don't want people going, 'Oh, Randy has a nice car,'" he laughed.

Stray Rescue's director of marketing, Jason Schipkowski, said he took a pay cut to work at the organization.  "It matters so much to me," he said.  "I think that when you embrace something as a job that you're really passionate about, then you can really excel at it and do a lot of good." 

Grim said, "For living in the Midwest, to make over six figures...I don't think people would want to donate if they knew that. That's one of the reasons I don't make nearly anything like [HMSO's compensation].  Do they have a lot of money? Yes. Are they using it wisely? It's easier to criticize from the outside looking in...but I think a lot of that money could just be making yourself feel good...being a good human being."

"To donors," Grim added, "I would say check charities' [Form] 990s.  They'll tell you a lot of information and help you with your plans to give."

KOMU 8 attempted to contact members of HSMO's Board of Directors and President Kathryn Warnick for comment, but requests were declined or unreturned.  All of the executives' salaries were approved by the organizations' boards of directors.

HSMO ex-officio board member and former board president Andrew Bresler did return a call but disclosed only that he had been involved in determining Warnick's salary several years ago.

To view all documents and numbers used in this report and HSMO's full statement, click here