The Labour Party conference kicked off on Monday morning with an ego-deflating moment for a couple of sector leaders when Paul Hackett of the Smith Institute stood up and introduced the speakers at the Social Investment Forum fringe event.
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Arriving at the conference centre for the Labour conference, I make my way into a lobby filled mostly with sleek young men in good suits, large older men with aggressive facial hair, bald heads and bad suits, and young women looking slightly uncomfortable in power heels. I pass through security directly behind two elderly patrician types who look around world-wearily, as if they have been to every conference every year since 1973.
After my first two blogs about the newspaper-driven debate over chief executive pay, I’ve received a lot of feedback. Most has been support from charity workers, but there has been a fair bit of opposition, too, from charity workers and others. It’s clear that this debate is far from won, even within the sector.
As I’ve said before, I’d like to see trustees engage with audiences inside and outside the sector, and make the case more clearly to justify the salaries they pay.
Here, basically, is what I would say if I was a trustee of an aid charity…
In the last week or two, emergency relief charities have been pummelled by national news outlets over their payment of chief executives. But they haven’t exactly come out swinging in their own defence. Instead, they’ve put their gloves up, leaned on the ropes, and taken the punches.
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.
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.
The Third Sector Research Centre study concludes that there are growing concerns that funders and commissioners are shaping and dominating approaches to impact measurement in the third sector and expresses concern about a lack of comparability between sectors and “selective presentation” of results by organisations.
Do we need a Fundraising Defence Council to defend the sector’s “right to ask”, as Mark Astarita, the chair of the Institute of Fundraising, proposed at the IoF convention a few weeks ago?
We certainly would if some Guardian commentators got their way. One was quoted last year by Conservative MP Charlie Elphicke as saying we should “arm the unemployed with AK47s and allow them to shoot down chuggers like dogs”.
Our analysis in Third Sector earlier this year indicated that ATM giving is struggling to get off the ground, not least because people fail to understand that the contribution is coming from them and not the bank. How naïve can you get?
But leaving that aside in the hope that people will wise up, I have been road-testing the system recently and I’m left feeling that the banks have misjudged the psychology and the sequencing of the giving process. The way they’ve done it is very clunky.
It’s been well documented in this blog that I can be a sucker for a good cause, especially ones of the four-legged variety.
But this week I was tempted to sign up to another direct debit for a cause I’m not particularly moved by, because of an enticing new proposition I hadn’t come across before.