What do you get when you donate to the nonprofit National Book Foundation, the sponsor of the National Book Awards? This week the answer is, “A financial stake in a fiasco.”
First the foundation mistakenly announced that it had selected Lauren Myracle’s young-adult novel Shine as a finalist for a 2011 National Book Award. Then the organization said that the book would remain on the shortlist despite the error. Now the foundation has reversed itself and persuaded Myracle to withdraw and accept the consolation prize of a $5,000 donation to a charity that she supports.
All of which raises the question: Can’t the foundation afford to hire staff members who can do better than this? You might think so from its budget. As a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization, the National Book Foundation must by law make its federal income-tax returns available to the public. And its figures show that it paid executive director Harold Augenbraum $196,964 plus $8,464 in additional compensation in 2009, the latest year for which its return appears to be available for free online. The median salary for a foundation director in the New York City area is $144,948 (and $122,113 nationwide), according to a survey by Salary.com. So Augenbraum earns at least $50,000 more than a typical peer even if he received no raise in 2010. The foundation also has a generous travel budget: It claimed $40,455 in travel expenses although its marquee events take place in Manhattan.
For that kind of money, the National Book Awards ought to be able to hire a director who can steer the program away from turbulence, not directly into its path. If the trustees of the organization don’t do this on their own, donors should demand it. The foundation must stop sending the message that with friends like the National Book Awards, authors like Lauren Myracle don’t need enemies.
A report by NPR has more on the debacle. I can’t link to the tax return mentioned above, but you can find it on websites that rate and provide free information on charities (search them for “National Book Foundation” and click on links to financial details). You may also request the return from the NBF or the Internal Revenue Service. The compensation figures cited come from the tax Form 990 filed by the NBF for 2009. You may be able to get the 2010 return by paying a fee.