Open season on the ‘charito-crats’

It might partly be the time of year, but everyone’s jumping on the bandwagon of the Daily Telegraph’s survey of the salaries of chief executives of the big aid charities.

First William Shawcross, chair of the Charity Commission, chose to throw fuel on the fire with his remarks about risk to reputation; this brought an equally inflammatory riposte from Sir Stephen Bubb, and then the international development secretary Justine Greening started talking about transparency in charities (which is a different, though arguably related, subject.)

By this morning the Telegraph was fuming about the betrayal of volunteers and donors and inventing a new class of hate-figure called “charito-crats.” There are so many agendas flying about that it’s hard to know where to start.

Well, how about in the calmer waters of the Today programme’s Thought for the Day? This morning the Rev Canon Angela Tilby of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, also climbed on the bandwagon, partly to challenge Bubb’s use of the Biblical phrase “the labourer is worthy of his hire.” She was, essentially, siding with Shawcross, saying charity leaders should walk the walk and be a bit more humble and selfless. “A charity is not a business or an investment opportunity,” she declared.

But surely that’s exactly where she and the charito-crat bashers are wrong. The big charities, turning over hundreds of millions, are essentially non-profit businesses and need to be run as such by high-calibre leaders. If they weren’t run professionally, there would be far greater cause for concern than the level of senior salaries, which are lower in the voluntary sector than in most private sector businesses of comparable size.

This is essentially one of those periodic outbursts, which have become more common since the Coaltion came to power, from those who have a political aversion to charities delivering public services or receiving government money. Their modus operandi is to attack them by invoking romantic, sentimental and reactionary conceptions of charity – they should all be volunteers, they should not campaign, they should be more humble and so on. It might be harder for the critics to do that if we could find and agree on a new name, and perhaps a new legal and taxation framework, for these big non-profit businesses, thus detaching them from the word ‘charity’ and all the baggage it brings with it.

8 Responses to “Open season on the ‘charito-crats’”

  1. Richard Tomlins

    However, to run a multi million pound “business” professionally does not require a 100k salary. We could have a debate about what “enough” is, however 100k is more than enough. The well salaried sometimes get rather detached from reality.

    • Martin Thompson

      ‘£100k is more than enough’? How do you work that out? No other job has a salary cap, so why should being a Charity Chief Executive? Many CEOs have a business background, so have probably taken a substantial pay cut to switch to the charity sector.

      My ex-boss earned £100k running a 50 strong, £5m turnover private business. Is it realistic to expect someone running a £100m charity with thousands of staff working in several countries to earn less?

  2. Nick Posford

    I am less bothered by pay than by achievement.

    If someone achieves well (ie furthers the objectives of their employers/organisations), pay them well, if they don’t, don’t. That basic rule should apply to all workers at all levels in all sectors. It really isn’t rocket science. (Apart from the obvious complexity of working out what each worker is actually responsible for!)

    It seems the constant furore over pay in lots of different sectors – banking to public sector to NHS to charity – is fundamentally not about pay, but about pay for failure (NHS/public), or massive pay for completely screwing up the economy (banking).

    If charity CEOs are doing a good job (and maybe their performance targets and reviews should be made public?), then pay them, because the work they do is important and benefits people. If a CEO is doing a poor job, don’t pay them, sack them and find someone to do a better job. A rule to apply to all workers, perhaps?

  3. Brendan Martin

    If Red Cross, Save the Children, Oxfam etc. can pay their CEOs six-figure salaries, which your argument says is justified, why don’t they pay their interns even the national minimum wage, let alone the living wage? Many smaller organisations, such as my own, Public World, do manage to do that — perhaps because we don’t pay ourselves six-figure salaries! This is an ethical issue, which gets to the heart of wider concerns about charities now being, as you say, big businesses. You are right — that is what they are. But if they are to be a model for a different way of doing business then they must base their decisions on a consistent set of values rather than what they can get away with. That is why we argue for Fair Trade Internships:

    • Neil Kemsley

      You are on the right track Brendan. Charities have to be run on a business like basis but the reason we are involved in running them should be because we do not see the world of work exclusively in terms of monetary reward. As a simple rule of thumb, if the salary for the Prime Minister is around £150k (whoever he or she might be) then why should any CEO in voluntary or public service be earning more? Those who want the monetary reward should get into (or stay in) the private sector where they can show that they are able to earn huge incomes against the kind of ferocious competition which is not comparable with the charity world. Working with charities involves making a conscious ethical decision and a life style choice – as the present Archbishop of Canterbury did when he left the private sector for the church.

  4. Alan Fowler

    Stephen Cook has highlighted precisely what is wrong with some parts of the charity world – the trend towards large charities becoming managerially-run businesses in which volunteers are sidelined while still maintaining the fiction that they are voluntary “membership organisations”. There will be different views as to whether this is a good or bad thing (Cook obviously thinks it’s good), but either way, current nomenclarture is very misleading. What is voluntary, for example, about an organisation run by paid staff and operating mainly on the basis of undertaking activities as, in effect, a sub-contractor to central or local government ? And what is charitable about running services, however admirable,which are specified by government ? Charities are steadily being suckered in to be alternative suppliers of services previously considered as essentially government functions, and if this is how we want society to operate, so be it.But please don’t pretend that organisations which operate in this way are either voluntary or charitable.

  5. Simon Sheehan

    These salaries have been public knowledge for years so not sure why this is suddenly front-line news other than it distracts from other stories. What should be debated is the range of salaries in an organisation. Is there a multiple between the bottom and top that is morally justifiable? When a CEO on over £140,000 cuts front line staff to protect their post then surely something is wrong. Time for the sector to lead by example?

    Can we also stop this business people are best placed to run a charity and that we should be grateful that they have decided to take a career break and a salary cut to work for a charity. Charities can be well or badly run just as much as businesses are and you don’t need to have been in the commercial world to work that out. It shouldn’t be about the sector you worked in but how well you do your job…. And let’s be honest, businesses “leaders” are only employed because we want them to use their past contacts to bring in more money…. who’s business-like now?!

  6. Ernest Thompson

    It would seem that Stephen Cook’s suggestion of “a new name” and “perhaps a new legal and taxation framework for non-profit businesses” was made tongue in cheek, given his “put down” of everyone who has a concern about what some supposedly “voluntary” organisations are morphing into.
    But his suggestion is precisely what is required. At least that would prevent donors and volunteers from being duped into donating money and giving their time free (in many cases over decades) to bodies that have ceased to be “voluntary” organisations
    And all these non-profit businesses could indeed “be detached from the word “charity” and all the baggage it brings with it”
    But somehow I doubt that many such charities would choose to go down that route. After all, their CEOs and others are doing very nicely thank you, out of charity baggage and out of volunteer “romantics”


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