Last night was National Night Out, a night to promote neighborhood safety. I spent the night in, pondering why Matt A. Peskin makes $255,000 in salary and $42,000 in benefits so people can have annual block parties to feel better about safety.

"National Night Out has proven to be an effective, inexpensive and enjoyable program," the Web site states.

Scratch the inexpensive part.

This is another charity where the biggest charitable recipient seems to be the organization's leader. This stretches the concept of doing well for yourself by helping others. My favorite regional recipient of his board's own largesse is WHYY's Bill Marrazzo.

As president and chief executive officer of the public radio and television station, Marrazzo makes a very for-profit salary, $430,786 and an additional $56,250 in benefits during fiscal year 2006.

For those of you playing at home, the president of the United States makes $400,000.

Why donors, and the board, aren't outraged by this remains a mystery. The key to charitable giving is to be smart about it, to make sure money is going to essential programs, not officers' paychecks.

Peskin, as head of the Wynnewood-based National Association of Town Watch, the sponsoring organization for National Night Out, was paid a third of the group's fiscal 2005 budget, according to an article by The Inquirer's Andrew Maykuth.

Sen. Arlen Specter, who helped deliver $2.7 million in federal funds to Peskin's organization, voiced his concern to The Inquirer. Specter, who works tirelessly, even while battling Hodgkin's disease and receiving chemotherapy, earns $165,200, about a third less than Peskin.

Donors and corporate sponsors like Target ought to be concerned about this. The board is another matter, as it's stacked with Peskin relatives and pals.

Apparently devoid of humility or remorse, Peskin said new caps on salaries of organizations receiving $250,000 or more in federal subsidies would have no effect on his income. "The implication is that the taxpayers are paying my salary, and that's not the case," he told The Inquirer.

Looks like Peskin is watching his bank account as much as he is the town.

There's a solution to such obscene salaries and perks, highly profitable payments for heads of nonprofits: Stop giving.

WHYY is a wonderful radio station, thanks largely to Terry Gross and the Fresh Air staff, and Marty Moss-Coane and Radio Times, plus national news from NPR.

The television station is another matter entirely, stuffed with self-help infomercials, ancient English sitcoms and Lawrence Welk who, last time I checked, is still dead. Listed under the station's "special productions" are 17 shows, mostly half-hour documentaries many years old.

Marrazzo's obscene salary, and the lack of station-generated television programming, got him named No. 2 on the watchdog group Charity Navigator's 10 Highly Paid CEOs at Low-Rated Charities. (Full disclosure: My husband works at the public radio station WXPN. No one there earns anything close to this salary.)

My guess - though it's only a guess - is that Marrazzo's salary and benefits went up again this year, unlike so many people his station solicits constantly for gifts.

My guess is based on the fact that his salary went up more than $66,000 last year.

When you give to a charity, you should know that your money is helping original programs, not an endless loop of old shows and overpayment of the president.

Consult Charity Navigator to see how the nonprofit is rated or guidestar.org to check tax returns for expenditures, including top staffers' salaries.

I stopped giving to WHYY, despite being an admirer of the radio station and having a thing for Jim Lehrer, and I won't give until the board sees the absurdity of Marrazzo's salary or he voluntarily takes a pay cut or a more enlightened leader is selected.

Poor practices won't end unless donors question them.

Charity, after all, ought to begin with the organization, not at home in the bank account.

Contact staff writer Karen Heller at 215-854-2586 or kheller@phillynews.com.