Thursday, July 8, 2010

uptown girls...

the strange high society world of nonprofit conservation corporations...

It won’t be long, just wait and see I’ll have a big car, fine clothes
And then I’ll be Uptown, in penthouse number three
"Why must conservation leaders make more than 99 percent of U.S. taxpayers? Once they get used to such lavish pay, doesn’t it follow that fundraising — to keep those salaries coming — would trump their core mission?"
from New York Social Diarynewyawk
by Lesley Hauge

Allison Stern is delightful – and kind of bossy: ‘Have you looked at the CIA Factbook on the web? You should write that down …’(she leans over to see that I do) … ‘because that’s a good website if you need to know anything about geography.’ And: ‘If you go to the Galapagos, take hiking boots – get Merrells. They’re really lightweight …’ (I have the feeling she’ll know if I don’t get Merrells) And: ‘I think I have the only husband in the world who would bring me an ant farm.’ (Holds aloft the package.) ‘How old are your kids? You should get one. He got it right around the corner at the Sharper Image, 73rd and Madison – so as you leave, pick one up.’

So that’s me sorted – now for the Wildlife Conservation Society for whom she is a passionate advocate, trustee and board member and committee member deluxe (she sits on no fewer than four of the standing committees). ‘I have a very big mouth,’ she declares. It’s also a rather beautiful mouth, for she is classically lovely, a slender, blonde ex-model married for over 20 years to the ant-farm giving Leonard Stern, chairman and CEO of the Hartz group, whose great wealth, now in real estate, appropriately enough, once stemmed from selling pet products. Presumably he gets his marching orders from time to time but she devotes a good portion of her week to the WCS, which maybe takes the heat off somewhat. In fairness, the bossiness is really a form of enthusiasm, let us call it structured enthusiasm, and it is immensely appealing – appeal is something she really knows how to deploy.

Although PR is not her formal role, it seems that one of the most valuable things she brings to the organization is an instinctive understanding of the way the media works. She constantly, almost unconsciously, ties thoughts into how they could best be disseminated into popular culture. Whilst discussing books we like, she comes up with the astute assertion that Queen Latifah should option all the Alexander McCall-Smith books featuring the Botswana lady detective, Madame Ramotswe. (So that’s Queen Latifah sorted too.)

Bringing this acute media instinct to the WCS, she says: ‘Over the past 10 or 15 years, we were very publicity shy – if it wasn’t in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal or Nature magazine, then it wasn’t for us. But in my opinion, I think a story about someone attacked by a forest elephant is a People magazine story … my goal is to see this organization step boldly into the 21st century.’ It is a formidable organization. Founded in 1895 as the New York Zoological Society, it has consistently had a clear mandate: promoting the study of zoology, educating the public and advancing the conservation of wildlife and wild lands.It runs the world’s largest system of urban wildlife parks (they don’t seem to like the word ‘zoo’ that much, at least not on the website) – although the flagship of the whole enterprise, the Bronx Zoo, remains as such. Some of the best and most prominent scientists in the area of conservation are funded by the WCS and currently there are WCS projects underway in 53 nations across the globe. In New York more than 300,000 school children in organized groups, visit the five main zoos over the course of a year. Scattered throughout its website are evocative quotes about human beings ‘yearning to connect to wildlife’ and how this work is ‘essential to the integrity of life on Earth.’ And there is no doubt how deeply Mrs Stern feels about animals. ‘They fascinate me. If I know someone and they’re just not an animal person or have no compassion for animals, I can’t be friends with them.’
She showed her commitment to the organization by becoming a zoo guide at Central Park Zoo for two years before joining the board. Looking at me meaningfully over her coffee cup, she adds somewhat drily, ‘There were no women on the board at that time.’ But she clearly loved paying the dues expected of her. Amongst many of the rewards of that job was witnessing, one day, one of the polar bears catch and devour a hapless pigeon that had landed in its enclosure. ‘Just seconds’ she swipes gleefully at the air polar-bear style. ‘And then it was gone.’

 She’s not only in it to cuddle the pandas. Of sentimentalists such as Timothy Treadwell of Grizzly Man fame, she yelps ‘That guy was a jerk! He was no more a scientist than my cat is! Grizzly bears are wild animals. THEY WILL EAT YOU!’ And of the other world where they will eat you, the one that is stretched out along Park Avenue, she says she has emphatically not taken up this particular cause for the social cachet. ‘I really do believe that the social cachet comes more with the arts organizations,’ she says. And then with the same strength of purpose (let us call it that now), she adds ‘I really don’t care what people think, I truly don’t. I love this organization. This is my thing.’

corporate conservation non-profit group CEOs rake in the cashfrom Charity Navigator comments: As an employee of Wildlife Conservation Society right now in June of 2009, I feel the need to inform you that Steve Sanderson is presently compensated at $900,001 per year, including a housing allowance for his Manhattan penthouse, 100% payment of children's college tuition, travel allowance... the list goes on. Even sadder is the number of low- wage earning union employees laid off last month-- 48 individuals-- zoo keepers, maintenance and horticulture employees, etc... the "little people" who make the zoo and aquarium work. Sanderson was asked at a zoo wide "town hall" meeting to take a pay cut and he flat out refused, even though people making less than $50K per annum offered to take a pay cut to save jobs. WCS management refused to sit down with DC-37 Union Reps to find other ways to save money, besides layoffs and shipping animals out... that's right, refused. For those of us who work in the Brooklyn Aquarium and the Bronx Zoo, it's been a very painful and difficult time. Some animal care departments were cut down by as much as 25% of staff, and then told that if productivity lessened under the cuts, exhibit buildings would be closed and beloved animals would be shipped out. Bear in mind also that there's an extensive network of other top management individuals pulling in six figure incomes... Sanderson is the top of the pyramid, but there are literally dozens of other "top tier" managers, if not more, that increase the % of $$ going to adminstrative salaries quite a bit. There's no question that WCS does some wonderful things for wildlife conservation in the field, but there simply has to be a limit on salaries here at home... and there isn't. As far as dk's comment re:competitive salaries for CEO's of charities... take a look at salaries of equivelant positions in ZOOS, not just any charity... you'll find that Sanderson is getting at least 500K MORE than anyone in San Diego, Brookfield, Zoo Atlanta, or any of the other large Conservation Parks. Sorry, it just doesn't add up!

Alliance For Climate Protection raised $88,303,373 and paid CEO Cathy Zoi $330,280
Wildlife Conservation Society ..CEO Steve Sanderson...$900,000
Environmental Defense Fund raised $125,425,925 and paid CEO Frederick D. Krupp $474,596National Wildlife Federation raised $94,573,828 and paid CEO Larry J. Schweiger $345,004Natural Resources Defense Council raised $107,999,911 and paid CEO Frances Beincke $432,959The Nature Conservancy raised $856,246,824 and split $592,298 between CEO’s serving part of year, Stephanie K. Meeks $386,348 and Mark R. Tereck $205,950.Pew Center On Global Climate Change raised $1,338,294 and paid CEO Eileen Clausen $335,099.World Resources Institute raised $21,224,697 and paid CEO Jonathan Lash $385,388.World Wildlife Fund raised $151,560,547 and paid CEO Carter Roberts $509,699.

ok, Allison Stern is now on my radar as the poster girl for nonprofit totally!


Anonymous said...


You missed the story about your favorite downtown girl "69". She wants to go down and taser some wild pussy!

Here is a link:

Mick Von Caw said...

how the hell did I miss that?? thanks for the link..wild pussy, shame on you