Executive Compensation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a responsibility to the public to provide “fair and reasonable” compensation to its executives – and it is not doing a good job.

Best practices call for a nonprofit board to hire an independent compensation consulting firm that compares the compensation of their executives with benchmarks – similar organizations and similar positions.  The Met has few benchmarks when it comes to museum administration – although for the investment officers there are many.

 Technically, legally,  the Metropolitan is likely within what the IRS calls a “safe harbor.” On the other hand, there is the appearance of fair and reasonable – and particularly when an organization is scaling back, when it is reducing headcount, when it is losing money, the board must take these circumstances into account.

Were they to have kept the President’s and Director’s salaries at the same level, or asked for concessions, there is little risk that either would leave for another job (a Fifth Avenue apartment does not come with many other positions). In fact, it is a strategic error that could have been a strategic advantage, had either or both of the leaders decided to take a salary cut or delay a bonus, or something that, when learned by the public, would have demonstrated a keen eye (and not a ‘tin ear”) as it relates to the rest of the staff. The form 990s (the documents that make public nonprofit executive compensation) are usually published 12 months to 18 months after the end of the fiscal year, but eventually, the information emerges. The press ( Judith Dobrynski’s blog, and those remaining reporters who take the trouble to read the data) serve us all by keeping information that is public, public. Let us remember, we all own the Met, and most everything inside it. The board is there to mind our assets. They need to do a better job for all of us.

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