Democratic congressional candidate Chrissy Houlahan has an impressive résumé that includes military service, time as the CFO of a multinational corporation, and a stint at a respected Philadelphia nonprofit. In her campaign materials, she uses these diverse experiences as evidence that she is a pragmatic progressive – fusing military and business experience with a commitment to philanthropy.
But her Republican critics are now attacking Houlahan for enjoying handsome raises during her time as the CFO and COO of Springboard Collaborative, a Philadelphia-based 501(c)3 that supports child literacy initiatives. During her time there, executive compensation more than tripled for her and her colleagues, according to nonprofit filings.
National Republican Campaign Committee spokesperson Chris Martin drew a link between the raises and a 2000s report that linked Houlahan’s former employer, the sportswear company AND1, to Chinese sweatshop labor.
“Once again, greedy Chrissy Houlahan is being exposed for lining her pockets at the expense of others. First it was Chinese laborers in Dongguan, now it’s children,” wrote Martin.
Houlahan’s Linkedin profile indicates she began work as CFO of the nonprofit in September 2012, about a year after its founding. Nonprofit financial disclosure records show she earned $56,000 in her first salaried year. By 2016, the most recent filing available, Houlahan was earning more than $153,000 – an increase of about 172 percent in four years.
Asked about the successive raises, Houlahan’s campaign countered that the nonprofit is, broadly viewed, a success story and that her time there also coincided with big increases in its revenue.
“The fact is that during Chrissy’s tenure, Springboard’s revenue grew...all while expanding across the country to schools in Oakland, D.C., New York, San Francisco and San Jose,” wrote spokesperson Rahul Kale in an email.
When contacted, Kale sent City & State PA a three-page document outlining increases in Springboard’s revenues, from $580,000 during the year Houlahan became CFO to more than $3 million in its most recent filings.
And, to be clear, she was not alone. Each successive year saw the nonprofit’s board approve similar salary increases for other executives, with each raise averaging roughly $30,000 per year.
While Houlahan’s campaign tied the raises to financial performance, it’s worth noting that Springboard executives still enjoyed similar pay hikes regardless of the nonprofit’s fundraising results. In 2014, when total revenues declined by about $278,000 compared to the prior year, all three executives still enjoyed board-approved 30 percent raises. Their combined pay alone accounted for about one-quarter of the charity’s $1.4 million in expenses that year.
Comparing salary overhead in the nonprofit sector is often difficult, but a 2016-2017 sample performed by Excellence in Giving found that the average CEO pay for a nonprofit earning as much as Springboard was about $125,000. According to an analysis of 65,000 nonprofits by Guidestar, a charity database, the average annual increase in CEO pay was about 4 percent.
Congressional redistricting and the related resignation of incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello gives Houlahan, an unchallenged Democrat, a major advantage in the Chester County race. But Republicans are still making a sustained play to boost sole GOP candidate Greg McCauley, a local attorney who similarly faces no primary challengers.
Kale reiterated that critiques of Houlahan’s time at the nonprofit are “grossly misleading.”
“This story...seeks to damage an organization that has helped thousands of low-income parents and children increase literacy and close the achievement gap,” he wrote, in an emailed response.