6-2-10 Note from Bil: After GetEqual's Managing Director Heather Cronk's guest post this afternoon, I've corrected my salary numbers now that concrete dollar amounts have been released.
Quoting Martin Luther King or Bayard Rustin doesn't make you a successful activist. In fact, I've never really trusted people who had to rely too heavily on quotes from others to make a point; if you can't tell me yourself what you've got to say, why should I take you seriously?
Knockoffs are tiring; how many impromptu-but-choreographed flash mobs can there be before the idea is finally given a rest? Worse though, are the copycats that try to be something they're not. Instead of putting forth something brilliant and groundbreaking, they recycle something, put a new brand on it and try to spin it to the consumer as superior to the product they're aping. (Hello, Microsoft. I'm looking at you!)
As I've been watching some of GetEqual's recent tactics and behind-the-scenes positioning, I can't help but get the same uneasy feelings. I'm starting to feel as if I've been sold a bill of goods; I wanted orange juice but got Tang. Instead of a radically different, transparent and community-focused direct action organization, I got HRC Lite (now with more action!).
This week I'll look at three ways GetEqual is starting to become everything they railed against, but for today let's follow the money.
A few concerns about GetEqual's recent statements and decisions have been circulating and a recent piece in the Advocate, "The Rise of GetEqual," finally clears up many rumors. Unfortunately, it also raises new questions and leaves too many unanswered.
The Advocate reports that GetEqual is being financed by wealthy activists Paul Yandura and Jonathon Lewis. Lewis also financed last year's secretive Highlander retreat for 45 handpicked activists that had worked on Prop 8 organizing and the National Equality March; the retreat cost $45,000. He is the heir to the Progressive Insurance fortune.
Who's Getting What?
Heather Cronk, GetEqual's new Managing Director, told me, "The structure of GetEQUAL is constantly evolving, depending on what we need from staff/volunteers and what assets our staff/volunteers bring to the table."
"We currently have a few private donors who have contributed to the work of the organization, though we are also examining the best funding structure for our work. We have no interest in setting up a permanent organization -- we are focused on setting up a "campaign" structure that is focused on achieving full legal and social equality," she said. "Since there are few models for that kind of structure for us to use as inspiration, we are currently examining the most effective funding strategy for accomplishing those goals."
Cronk, co-directors Kip Williams and Robin McGehee and two other activists are all collecting salaries from the new organization. Williams disclosed that he and McGehee both make "less than $90K per year," but the other salary amounts are unknown. (Full disclosure: Kip Williams is a Bilerico Project contributor.)
"Some of us are making about the same as we were before joining GetEQUAL -- some are making less," Cronk told me. "But no one is making more than they were before joining the organization and we all come out of the nonprofit world."
This seems a little off to me. Depending on where you live, $90,000 a year is a decent to damn good salary. Cronk, former COO of the New Organizing Institute, said she would be getting paid "about the same as I was at NOI, but certainly without some of the stability of a larger organization."
As the Managing Director, it can be assumed that she will be making more than McGehee and Williams. Cronk will be making $70,000.
Williams, who lived off a stipend while organizing the Equality March, was a New Organizing Institute fellow before he was hired by GetEqual although the Advocate piece simply says he was an "online campaign strategist for Radical Designs, which builds websites for advocacy groups." Unless William's NOI fellowship was highly lucrative, it's doubtful that this isn't a raise for Williams and a design company's campaign strategist isn't a not-for-profit job. Williams will be making $72,000.
McGehee is a communications professor at College of the Sequoias in California's San Joaquin Valley. The school is a two year community college that offers vocational and community-based classes, including the local fire/police academies. A salary of almost $90,000 a year for a vocational school teacher would be exceptionally rare - especially in a state facing extreme budget difficulties. McGehee also wouldn't be considered a not-for-profit worker.
McGehee will be making $89,000 and sent this text to clarify her previous salary: "I am more than willing to send you a copy of my tax statement from COS (w/ proof of my $89k salary) if you want to have proof that I only speak with the honesty I know to be true - you can publish without my personal info - I really am doing this because I believe in our work and believe we are all supposed to be on the same page working to get equal (no pun intended)."
Shortly after the National Equality March both Williams and McGehee quit working with Equality Across America citing concerns about financial security and the leadership of the new organization.
The other two employees, Jay Carmona and Michelle Wright, are logistical consultants for direct action protests.
So What's the Total?
Yandura told the Advocate that the group had spent approximately $130,000 plus the extra $45,000 for the retreat. Williams told journalist Michael Petrelis the group had spent $135,000 plus the cost of the retreat. Either way, we're looking at approximately $175,000 to $180,000 spent already - not a huge difference.
Two weeks ago, Williams deposited another check from Lewis for $250,000. While GetEqual is in the process of applying for a c(4), they are currently sponsored as a c(3) through the Citizen Engagement Lab according to Cronk. This would make Lewis' contribution tax deductible.
If the group has already spent $175,000 and just deposited $250,000, one can safely assume that the organization is sitting on between $75,000 to $325,000. The group's salary requirements alone, however, would outweigh that amount so other sources of funding are going to have to be found.
Three Director level salaries at $90,000 per year is $270,000. If we assign $50,000 each to the advance and logisitics team members, that's another $100,000. Grand total for salaries for the year? $370,000 According to Cronk the payroll budget is currently $300,000.
Lewis' check for a quarter of a million dollars won't cover the payroll costs for GetEqual this year. This doesn't include any administrative costs, travel reimbursements, supplies, or any other part of running a major organization that requires money to function. How much do you think it's going to cost to keep GetEqual running for a year?
Half a million dollars? A million? Speculation has been rife in Washington DC that the org is sitting on a war chest of almost $500,000.
Follow the Money
Who decided how much to pay everyone?
To help provide oversight, the group has invited six undisclosed people to serve on the org's board. This group will meet at another retreat to be held later this month. These are the individuals responsible for GetEqual's actions; until then there doesn't seem to be any sort of check in place other than the threat of closing the pocketbook.
A half a million to a million dollars is a large amount of money. That's not chump change any longer and it's strips GetEQual of the "struggling activists with hearts of gold" mystique they've been capitalizing on lately.
It's hard to be the common guy when you've got a million dollars. I've worked with tons of small independent little groups and operations that've struggled to survive financially. The constant competition for dollars, the demands for transparency, the constant criticism are draining and the pay is usually very low.
Throw in an economic downturn and many groups are shutting down. The not-for-profit and activist worlds are littered with the souls of good intentions. It's grueling work and the burnout rate is high.
Most organizations are ruled by their boards - usually individuals who have donated large sums of money to the group and want a voice in guiding how the org moves forward. The motivations behind organizational decisions aren't always what's best for the community as much as what's best for the board member.
A recent example would be HRC's board decision to support a trans-exclusive ENDA that was not supported by a large portion of it's employees but became the group's official position nonetheless. The people with the pocketbook controlled the decision.
A large segment of the LGBT community opposed HRC's decision on ENDA, but we had no voice in the choice. Billed as the everyman's direct action group, GetEqual gives the average member the same amount of input while potentially spending a million dollars this year.
If you were suddenly making a really good salary for working on LGBT rights with no oversight and a huge amount of money to spend, what would you do? Would you bite the hand that feeds you?
Next I'll look at the group's accountability - both to their members and donors and the community at large.
The Entire Series
Part 1: Follow the Money: Is GetEqual the New HRC?
GetEqual's Managing Director: GetEqual: A Response & Clarification
Part 2: Behind the Veil: Is GetEqual the New HRC?
GetEqual's Managing Director: Part 2: GetEqual responds again
Part 3: Through a Glass Darkly: Is GetEqual the New HRC?