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Eye-Popping Pay

—published in the December 2011 issue of the Charity Rating Guide & Watchdog Report

The head of the American Cancer Society since 1992, John Seffrin made $1.3 million in total compensation and benefits in fiscal 2009. His payout in fiscal 2010 was boosted to $2.2 million. This puts him at #2 on CharityWatch's list of Top 25 Compensation Packages.

According to the Society's 2010 tax filing Seffrin was paid $1.5 million for a supplemental SERP. SERP is usually an acronym for "supplemental executive retirement plan." So this begs the question: Why is Seffrin receiving a retirement payout before he's retired? Greg Donaldson, the Society's VP of Corporate Communications, told CharityWatch that the $1.5 million was a retention benefit rather than a retirement benefit that was approved by the Society's compensation committee in 2001 to "preserve management stability" and for "succession planning."

John Seffrin has dedicated much of his life to the cancer cause and has been impacted by the disease personally-his grandmother and mother both died of cancer, and his wife of 43 years is a breast cancer survivor. It is not clear why he would require a $1.5 million payout, in addition to his generous $700,000 in other compensation and benefits, to motivate him to continue his employment at the leading cancer charity in the U.S.

CharityWatch was also surprised to learn that upon retirement, three subordinates of Seffrin received retirement pay and benefit packages of $1.9 million, $1.5 million and $1.2 million, respectively, according to the Society's fiscal 2009 tax filing. A major chunk of these payouts was for accumulated pension and retirement benefits that were not disclosed by the Society until the fiscal year that the executives retired. If Seffrin's underlings received such large, previously undisclosed payouts upon retirement, it is reasonable to assume that he will eventually get an even bigger payout. When CharityWatch recently asked Donaldson about Seffrin's likely retirement benefits, he said, "We believe that any attempt to communicate any future payments to or the future value of any potential retirement benefits would be totally speculative and would therefore be of little benefit and indeed, potentially misleading."

While the Society won't reveal Seffrin's anticipated retirement payout, it has planned to set aside $16.8 million in SERPs for him and its other most highly paid executives. This is in addition to the $589.2 million planned for future pensions and $57.7 million for postretirement medical, dental and life insurance coverage for all Society employees who qualify, according to the charity's 2010 audit. The Society should not keep donors in the dark about what portion of these millions of dollars set aside for future retirement benefits will directly benefit its already highly paid CEO.

 
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