And what about the newspaper fat cats?

In recent days, both the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph have been on their high horses about charities paying their chief executives more than a £100,000 a year. One Mail columnist worked himself up into a fervour, putting the boot into the “hideous hypocrisy” of the charity fat cats.

But I can’t help noticing a bit of  hypocrisy on the part of the papers too. They don’t like charities spending money on staff, but they don’t seem to mind their own chief executives trousering some eye-watering sums.

The Telegraph turns over £343m a year, pretty similar to the income of Oxfam, but its highest-paid director gets £800,000 – seven times as much as the chief executive of Oxfam. The Telegraph accounts on Companies House, though, don’t give the slightest idea who this lucky person is. We asked the Telegraph, but it didn’t tell us.

The Mail is  a bit more transparent. Its highest-paid director, the editor,  Paul Dacre, is paid £1.8m – more than every Disasters Emergency Committee chief executive put together, and more than 50 times as much as the average Briton.

And yet, according to the Mail’s columnist, no one needs to pay that much to attract talent. The idea that you have to pay good money to get the best people is just the “jaded defence of over-paid corporate plutocrats”.

So I rang both papers to ask why their senior executives were paid more than charity chief executives. Did they think that it was more difficult to run a paper than a charity, or did they think that working for a charity is so much more rewarding that you only need to be paid a fraction of the salary? Would those directors be prepared themselves to take a pay cut to work for charity? How much would a charity have to pay to get them as a chief executive?

Alas, I’m yet to receive an answer…

My personal view, as an Oxfam donor, is that since it’s got  £300m a year to spend on making the world a better place, I’d want someone making sure it’s spent properly. I’d want to get the best person for the job, not the cheapest. I’d probably want to pay what it took to get them.

Of course, rather than hiring the best man or woman for the job, Oxfam could pick up, for a knock-down price, an “astute businessman at the end of their career” – another suggestion from the Mail.

Why did Oxfam not think of this? It’s foolishly been paying more than it needed to because it didn’t think to snap up all some clapped-out old fellow on his way to the golf course. The trustees could probably save £50,000 – a whole 0.01667% of their annual budget – by using this clever stratagem. Of course, your new chief executive wouldn’t know what they’re doing, but hey –  you’re a charity, not a newspaper.


9 Responses to “And what about the newspaper fat cats?”

  1. Alec Sandison

    I’m not sure about the comment suggesting charities need to pay the market rate; it sounds too much like the ‘pay peanuts, get monkeys’ arguments which has been so devastatingly disproved by (for example) banks who paid obscene amounts of money and still ended up with monkeys.

  2. Ian Fairhurst

    I Don’t think we are doing the sector any favours by comparing salaries to other charities, the private sector, footballers or newspaper editors. It doesn’t move the argument on any further. The sector should be defending itself, with a huge amount of pride, about the transformational change that well run and well resourced organisations achieve.

    I expand on this idea here –

  3. Richard Chambers

    Always glad to read an article that turns the spotlight around onto the media hypocrites.

    However, I still maintain that £50,000 is enough to be a CEO of any charity. If more charities had a policy of promoting their best men and women through the ranks to become their CEOs, then they would not be shelling out upwards of £80,000 for people from the private/public sector. Someone who has worked their way up from admin assistant – through the same charity – to senior management is more than happy with a sensible, incremental pay rise…and would consider £50,000 a small fortune.

    And in terms of the direction in which David “Big Society” Cameron is taking us, charity workers had better face facts that pay freezes/cuts are already here to stay.

    • stephen moreton

      Not funding charities is a key point of the Big Society philosophy though…according to a recent TSRC paper by Rob Macmillan.

      Macmillan presents the government policies as trying to decouple its relationship with the Third Sector, which will have the effect of increasing the Third Sector’s independence. The thinking is along the lines that charities have become too dependent on the tax payer for their survival, and that the state ‘crowds out’ civil society and compromises its independence.

      A snippet from the paper:

      Charity CEO: ‘What’s the Big Society all about then?’
      Minister: ‘You!’
      Charity CEO: ‘In that case can I have some money to fund my project please?’
      Minister: ‘No, that’s the whole point.’
      From a conversation between a Conservative minister and the chief executive of a leading charity was reportedly overheard at the 2010 Conservative party conference in Birmingham (Howarth and Kendall 2011: 4).

    • Siobhan_T

      I think you are taking a majorly simplistic view of the whole subject. A charity needs to be run in a similar way as big business and as such needs to recruit capable Executives. Of course there are always possibilities that an admin assistant shows true talent but I’m afraid it’s not the norm.

  4. Mike Wild

    Good article, David, I agree with much of what you say (Of course we also need to question the motivations of the Telegraph and the Mail for starting this off in the first place.)

    The sector needs a much better response, though because it’s not the few media types with their own agendas we need to worry about. I think the real point we need to address is when the public look at these salaries and then point to the same organisations’ publicity showing how famine and poverty can be tackled for “just £3 per month”. It’s the apparent disconnection which creates a false impression, not the numbers in themselves.

    As a sector I think we can do better than the argument that “top talent demands market rates” – we need to promote the sector as an ethical career choice.

  5. Susie McCallum

    A very good comeback to those two newspapers. Well done – no wonder they haven’t replied. However, the article was slightly spoiled for me David by your assumption that it would be a “clapped-out old fellow on his way to the golf course”. It might well be a not-so-clapped-out woman.


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