Monday, October 3, 2022

Colonial Williamsburg president saw $100K bonus for second year in a row, recent tax documents show

Colonial Williamsburg’s latest admission revenue information shows admissions took a dip from 2016 to 2017, the first decrease since 2014. (WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)
Colonial Williamsburg’s latest admission revenue information shows admissions income took a dip from 2016 to 2017, the first decrease since 2014. (WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)

Recently-released public tax documents for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation show the nonprofit saw another year of decreased revenues, including a nearly $900,000 drop in revenue from admissions alone.

Despite the drop in overall revenues, the foundation saw some improvements with its return on investments and lower operating costs between calendar years 2016 and 2017 — a transitional time for the foundation as it worked to gain a better financial standing.

But during that time, there were also changes in compensation paid to the organization’s leadership. 

The foundation’s 2017 form 990, the most recent tax document available detailing the nonprofit’s expenses and revenues, shows some of the highest-paid officials received raises up to $167,000. Several others received far less pay than the year before.

And foundation President and CEO Mitchell Reiss received a $100,000 bonus for the second year in a row and a $6,210 raise, bringing his total compensation package with benefits up to $817,214, according to the form. Elisabeth Reiss, the president and CEO’s wife, also received $36,000 in compensation as an independent contractor in 2017, compared to $27,000 in 2016.

While there were fewer employees total working for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in 2017 — the foundation outsourced retail operations and laid off 71 employees in June 2017 as part of a restructuring — Colonial Williamsburg paid those in leadership roles more overall, according to the tax documents.

In total, the amount of compensation paid to Colonial Williamsburg vice presidents, officers and directors amounted to $3,456,537, $30,051 more than 2016, according to the tax documents.

Mitchell Reiss (Photo courtesy Colonial Williamsburg)
Mitchell Reiss (WYDaily/Courtesy Colonial Williamsburg)

The reason behind the president and CEO’s bonus and changes in salary is not stated in the 990 form.

Joseph Straw, Colonial Williamsburg spokesman, did not immediately respond to a request for additional information Wednesday concerning the $100,000, Elisabeth Reiss’ compensation and the changes in salaries for highly-compensated employees.

After restructuring

Since he was hired in 2014, Reiss has led an effort to get Colonial Williamsburg back in strong financial standing.

Overall, Colonial Williamsburg benefited from a “fundamental restructuring” effort in 2017, and is “well-positioned in returning to sustainable financial health,” the foundation said in its 2017 Annual Report.

“Today, we are a leaner organization with a clearer sense of purpose,” Reiss wrote in the 2017 Annual Report.

In June 2017, the foundation outsourced some commercial operations, affecting 333 employees total. Of those affected, 71 were laid off. Tax documents show the foundation employed a total of 1,778 people in 2017, compared to 2,091 in 2016.

The total money paid to Colonial Williamsburg employees in the form of salaries and wages was $42.59 million in 2017, almost $5.76 million less than 2016, according to the tax documents.

“As a direct result of all this, our 2017 operating revenues came in well ahead of what we had projected,” Reiss wrote in the annual report, referencing outsourcing of operations and employee layoffs. “Altogether, we held the line on expenses and improved our total operating performance in 2017 — by $1 million over 2016, and fully $4 million ahead of what we had predicted this plan would yield by year’s end.”

In the 2017 Annual Report, Reiss said the foundation is on the upswing.

Colonial Williamsburg President and CEO Mitchell B. Reiss said the foundation’s “aggressive” restructuring plan “is working.” (WYDaily/File photo)
Colonial Williamsburg President and CEO Mitchell B. Reiss said the foundation’s “aggressive” restructuring plan “is working.” (WYDaily/File photo)

The foundation’s total assets of $1.1 billion in 2017 remained “relatively flat” compared to 2016, and net assets of $654 million increased by $7 million in the same time frame, according to the annual report. Operating expenses totaled $223 million, $4 million lower than 2016.

While there’s good news with operating expenses and assets, the foundation’s total revenue dropped more than $20 million or about 14 percent, from $147.98 million in 2016 to $127.33 million in 2017, the annual report indicated.

Admissions and donations

Colonial Williamsburg’s latest admission revenue information shows admissions took a dip from 2016 to 2017, the first decrease since 2014.

“For more than 20 years, the public’s enthusiasm for Colonial Williamsburg, indeed for all history museums and historic sites, has waned,” Reiss wrote in the 2017 Annual Report. “It is a trend that has paralleled a national decline in the teaching of history in America’s schools at virtually every level. Today, we attract less than half the visitors we did in 1988.”

The form 990 shows admissions revenue decreased from $19.25 million in 2016 to $18.4 million in 2017. The 2017 Annual Report shows total operating revenues were down $1 million, or .4 percent, from the previous year.

RELATED STORY: One year later, is Colonial Williamsburg’s restructuring paying off?

Despite the decrease in admissions, Colonial Williamsburg saw more donors. There were 92,738 renewing donors and 21,849 new donors, nearly 2,200 more than 2016.

The foundation received $12 million more in the form of gifts and grants, “reflecting continued strong donor support of Colonial Williamsburg’s mission,” the report said.

“In 2018, the Foundation has already realized significant progress towards its cost saving targets,” the report said. “We are making strategic capital investments with the expansion of our Art Museums and a new archeology building. In addition, we are making the guest experience more interactive, immersive and engaging through upgraded technologies and analytics.”

Clarification: A previous version of this article spelled Elisabeth Reiss’ name incorrectly as “Elizabeth.” Colonial Williamsburg’s form 990 spells her name incorrectly under the list of business transactions involving interested persons.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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