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Dubious distinction dogs prominent D.C. charity

Thursday - 11/17/2011, 4:54am  ET

MLK Memorial (WTOP Photo/Michelle Basch)
According to Charity Navigator, the chief executive officer of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation makes $277,045 but the organization donates less than 60 percent of its budget to programs and services. (WTOP Photo/Michelle Basch)

WASHINGTON -- Overpaid chief executive officers and low-rated services might be what folks have come to expect from certain mega-corporations, but not from charities they choose.

But that's just the ranking some charities have received lately, including D.C.'s prominent Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation.

Charity Navigator recently published a top 10 list of charities whose CEOs command the highest salaries and whose budgets devote less than 60 percent of their funding to the cause for which they raise money.

The Memorial Foundation ranked fourth, with the CEO's salary at $277,045.

"The leaders of these 10 organizations are taking high salaries at the expense of spending dollars on the charity's programs," Charity Navigator says of its list.

"Despite receiving more than $240,000 in annual pay, these CEOs run organizations that devote less than 60 percent of their budgets to programs and services."

Trudy Byrd, public relations manager at the foundation, disagrees with the ranking. She says in a lengthy email that her organization does not feel Charity Navigator's rating system "provides an assessment of an organization's effectiveness or its accountability."

Charity Navigator says program and administrative expense account for 28.7 percent and 18 percent of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation's budget. Byrd says administrative expenses account for 6 percent of the foundation's budget.

Because of the way her foundation is organized, Byrd says "The Memorial Foundation is graded against completely dissimilar charities."

"The Memorial Foundation is constantly vigilant in our effort to always be good stewards of the funds entrusted to us; it is a responsibility we take very seriously," she writes.

The email never addresses the CEO's salary.

WTOP's Kristi King contributed to this report. Follow Kristi King and WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)