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April 1, 2021

Executive Compensation at the National Geographic Society

by Anne Paddock

When we think of the National Geographic Society (NGS), we often think of the magazine, which according to my childhood friends, was the first magazine they could look through to see naked people. But, the National Geographic Society is so much more than just the magazine. In their own words, they “identify and invest in an international community of explorers:  leading scientists, educators, storytellers, conservationists, technologists, and many other change makers who help us define some of the critical challenges of our time….”

The NGS is a tax-exempt non-profit 501 (c) 3 organization based in Washington, DC that primarily relies on investment income (gains on the sale of investments, dividends, interest, etc), royalties, and contributions for revenue.  With $1.4 billion in net assets, NGS has the ability to rely on these resources to keep their programs going when contributions, gifts, and grants (roughly $30 million annually) are not enough.

In 2018, revenue totaled $130 million, most of which came from investment income ($73 million), contributions, gifts, and grants ($31 million), royalties ($16 million), and education programs ($9 million). It is important to note the net assets were $1.55 billion at the beginning of the year.  With $73 million of investment income, the investment return was 4.7%.

Expenses totaled $160 million (including $4 million in depreciation) with the largest expenses being compensation ($76 million), grants ($30 million), fees for services ($21 million), office-related expenses ($15 million), travel and conferences ($7 million), and advertising/promotion ($6 million).

In 2018, 601 employees received $76 million in compensation (58% of revenue) for an average compensation of $126,000. However, only 132 employees received more than $100,000 with the 15 most highly compensated employees reported to be:

  • $885,057:  Michael Ulica, CFO/COO/Treasurer
  • $563,874:  Leora Hanser, SVP Partnerships
  • $550,014:  Gary E Knell, CEO and President
  • $522,133:  Christopher Johns, Director Executive, Yellowstone Project
  • $469,103:  Emma Carrasco, Chief Marketing and Engagement/SVP Global Strategy
  • $466,224:  Elizabeth Runnette, EVP, Chief Program and Impact Officer
  • $459,241:  Jonathan Baillie, Chief Scientist, EVP Science and Exploration
  • $427,804:  Angelo M Grima, EVP and General Counsel/Corp Sec’y
  • $396,048:  Rajiv Mody, SVP, Digital
  • $376,797:  Tara Bunch, Chief Admin Officer
  • $347,736:  Michael J Cole, SVP, Controller, Asst Treasurer
  • $342,614:  Tracy R Wolstencroft, President and CEO
  • $323,484:  Dawn Rodney, SVP, Brand Marketing
  • $315,058:  Enric Sala, Explorer in Residence
  • $297,890:  Alex Moen, VP Explorers Program

The 15 most highly compensated employees received $6.8 million, which equates to an average compensation of $450,000.

9 of the 15 (60%) most highly compensated employees are male while 6 of the 15 (40%) are female.

NGA paid for first class travel, companion travel, gross up payments and tax indemnification. For details, please see Schedule J, Part III, Supplemental Information of the Form 990.

65 independent contractors received more than $100,000 in compensation with the five highest reported to be:

  • $29,821,480:  James G Davis Construction Corp, of Rockville, MD for general contrating
  • $ 1,929,863:  Jones Lang LaSalle Americas, Inc., of Chicago, IL for project management
  • $ 1,735,369:  Hickok Cole Architects, of Washington, DC for architecture services and consulting
  • $ 1,651,905:  Digital Velocity Partners, of London, UK for IT services and consulting
  • $ 1,429,256:  Celenty IT, LLC, of McLean, VA for IT services and consulting

The NGS does a lot of great things but it’s disappointing to see a tax-exempt non-profit report high compensation, spend revenue on first class travel, companion travel, and gross up payments.

To read the IRS Form 990 (2018), click here.

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