They are not only well-paid, but many receive an array of generous perks — housing allowances, home loans, club dues, and free travel for spouses. One was awarded a quarter-million dollars in retention bonuses. Another is reimbursed for his children’s college tuition.
The executives on the receiving end of these benefits are not corporate chieftains. Instead, they run some of the Boston area’s most prominent nonprofit arts and cultural institutions.
The organizations, though, say the perks are appropriate, and often key to attracting and keeping top talent.
At the Museum of Science, for instance, president Ioannis Miaoulis earned $509,265 in the year ended June 2013, and his compensation included money to pay for his two children to attend Tufts University, according to a disclosure deep in the museum’s annual tax filing.
The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown paid director Michael Conforti nearly $920,000 in 2013 and also co-owns with him a $1 million home in the western Massachusetts town, according to the institute’s tax filing. About half the original $510,000 mortgage sits on the museum’s books, along with a $36,563 loan for home improvements.
And Malcolm Rogers, outgoing director of the Museum of Fine Arts, received a $60,096 annual housing allowance, according to the museum’s latest tax filing. It was part of a total compensation package worth $906,897.
“If I was a donor, I would certainly raise an eyebrow” about such perks, said Kathy Postel Kretman, director of Georgetown University’s Center for Public & Nonprofit Leadership. “In a public charity, the work is mission-driven, and it is not a private business, so with that comes a certain sense of accountability to the public — and these, to me, are beyond reasonable.”
Howard Messing, chairman of the Museum of Science board of trustees, said the offer of tuition payments was made to help lure Miaoulis from the Tufts School of Engineering, where he was dean from 1993 until 2003. At Tufts, where tuition, room and board now costs $61,000 a year, his two daughters’ educations would have been free.
“We’re very happy with Ioannis’s performance, and we don’t think he’s overpaid in general, and it was tough to get him to leave his academic career and come to the museum,’’ said Messing, the chief executive of a medical technology company in Westwood. “It was an investment that was worth the money.”
Messing said covering the tuition — and paying the taxes on that benefit — was less expensive for the museum than boosting Miaoulis’s salary because the payments will end when his children finish school.
At the Clark museum, Peter Willmott, the recently retired president of the museum’s board of trustees, said paying for half of the director’s home helped persuade Conforti in 1994 to move to the Berkshires from Minneapolis. The Clark also uses the property to host events.
In addition, the Clark wrote smaller mortgages for five other executives to encourage them to live in Williamstown, where housing costs are higher than in other nearby towns. Executives who receive such loans are generally expected to repay them at a market rate of interest.
“We try and help people live in the town, as opposed to miles away,’’ Willmott said. “We’re building a world-class institution here, and to do that we need top performers in these management jobs.”
Trustees are responsible for overseeing the judicious use of the charitable funds they often help raise. When it comes to paying top staff at these institutions, boards typically rely on input from their compensation committees and outside consultants who perform competitive-pay analyses.
Housing-related benefits are common at major museums in Boston and New York, cities with some of the most expensive real estate in the country.
At New York’s Museum of Modern Art, for example, director Glenn Lowry is required to live in an apartment at the museum, a benefit that was part of his $1.9 million in compensation the year ending in June 2013.
In Boston, Isabella Stewart Gardner lived in the mansion that houses her art collection, and her will stipulated that subsequent directors also could call her fourth-floor apartment home.
Several did. But the director since 1989, Anne Hawley, lives in her own home. She has been receiving an annual stipend — $24,000 in the latest year, officials said — as “the first executive director not to be provided living quarters in the museum,’’ according to the Gardner’s tax filing.
But such special payouts can put directors at odds with colleagues who do not receive similar perks, nonprofit specialists said. They can also appear out of step at a time when such add-ons have come under greater scrutiny in the corporate world.
Last summer, the Gardner trustees decided to do away with the separate housing benefit for Hawley, spokeswoman Kathy Sharpless said. “The housing allowance is now included in Anne’s overall compensation,’’ which was $328,370 in 2013.
The separate benefit endures at other institutions. MFA spokeswoman Karen Frascona said Rogers receives a housing allowance in part because he is expected to do museum-related entertaining in his home.
At the affiliated School of the Museum of Fine Arts, president Christopher Bratton’s $335,591 compensation in 2013 included $15,288 for entertaining at his home, according to school spokeswoman Amanda Karr, and a $2,288 school membership to the exclusive St. Botolph Club in Back Bay.
Bratton also received a $200,000 mortgage through the MFA and a bridge loan to cover his relocation expenses. These benefits are in line with common practices at colleges and universities, Karr said.
Elizabeth Keating, a specialist in nonprofit finance who teaches at Boston University, said that even with a relatively small number of highly competitive arts jobs available, there is an amping-up effect that happens with compensation, not unlike in the for-profit sector.
“It’s sort of become the game you play in the corporate setting — if you really want me, I’m going to get you to put as much on the table as you’re willing to put,’’ she said.
The Boston Symphony Orchestra includes summer housing at Tanglewood as part of managing director Mark Volpe’s $698,805 in compensation. The benefit, whose cost is not specified, is “for the convenience of the BSO,” according to its tax filing in 2013, and is not subject to taxes.
The symphony pays for Volpe’s wife to travel with him to court donors and raise funds. He drives a 2008 Audi A6 provided by the BSO and also had a $200,000 mortgage the symphony made to him in 1997 and refinanced in 2003. Of that, $72,000 is still due.
Bill Achtmeyer, chairman of the BSO trustees and a management consultant, said Volpe’s compensation is reasonable.
“Mark is the top managing director in the orchestral world. He is respected and trusted by artists and musicians around the globe,’’ Achtmeyer said. “We are lucky to have him at the BSO and will do everything we can to keep him in his post as long as he is willing to serve.”
Boards of arts organizations have to strike a balance, particularly in difficult economic times such as the last recession, when it was harder to raise money.
Kretman said, “It’s critically important that nonprofits do have the kind of compensation that will attract the kind of talent they deserve.” Providing benefits in creative ways can be legitimate, she added, “but these creative ways have to be reasonable.”
An unusual perk went to Michael Maso, the Huntington Theatre Company’s managing director, in the year ended June 2013: a $30,000 “special bonus” to recognize his 30th anniversary with the theatre. “It was a one-time deal,” said the Huntington’s director of marketing, Temple Gill. Maso’s total compensation that year was $321,450.
The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem often pays for longtime chief executive Dan Monroe’s wife to travel with him, and also covers his taxes on that compensation. In 2013, Monroe received a $1.2 million mortgage from the museum to buy a new house, replacing a $200,000 mortgage he had received for a different home in 1993, according to tax records. He made $723,174 in 2013, the latest year reported.
The financing was “in response to increasing at-home entertaining demands” associated with a major fund-raising campaign, museum spokeswoman Whitney Van Dyke said.
Other institutions have used perks to retain executives.
At the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, founding director Joseph C. Thompson was being wooed by a “nationally prominent museum” in another state in 2009, according to Hans Morris, chairman of the trustees and a venture capitalist. Thompson was earning $160,000 a year at the time and was offered roughly triple that to leave, Morris said.
So Mass MoCA’s board sought the help of a wealthy donor, who agreed to fund a $50,000 annual “retention bonus” for five consecutive years to recognize what Morris called the “sacrifice” Thompson made in turning down the other job.
Nearly six years later, Thompson is still in North Adams. Morris called him an excellent leader who also is concerned about pay equity for other museum staffers. “That separates him from some of the other arts leaders,’’ Morris said.