Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Back to leadership. Angela and expenses

Well, tomorrow its back in harness, so to speak. My first day back is to ACEVO’s Annual Chief Executive Summit tomorrow. A day when we limit attendance only to CEOs and look at leadership challenges. And a challenge will be to see how many make it given the wretched tube strike.

It will be interesting to hear what our new Minister, Angela Smith, has in store. Let's see what are her priorities as she takes on the task. An announcement on the Social Investment Bank perhaps? How they have bought into a Community Reinvestment Act? A radical approach to gift aid. More money to support sector bodies tackling greater demand. More action on putting sector at forefront of building recovery through a major jobs programme. I expect by now she will be well up on the ACEVO Hutton report and will tell us she is looking to implementing Will's proposals? We shall see!

What is happening at Charity Finance? Have they been taken over by The Sun? The Editor has recently got excited by an obscure and uncharitably snide blog by an accountant called John Tate (clearly not a relation of the sugar family). And now she is hassling various umbrella body CEOs to reveal their expenses - hot foot on the trail of scandalous second home allowances and jaffa cakes no doubt. Looking for the clothes allowances and second home perks? It's rather insulting she thinks charity CEOs would have those sort of allowance schemes. And to suggest there is a link between MPs arrangements and ours is simply wrong. The governance arrangements are clearly different. The problem with MPs is that they decided and audited their own arrangements. We do not. All our CEOs have to get sign off by their non-exec Chairs and the expenses are independently audited and an audit will pick up irregularity and report on it. And that will be public.

So Charity Finance’s Editor rings ACEVO last week and is firmly told by my Head of Media that I am recovering from an eye operation and will deal with her request when I return to work. But this is of little interest to the Editor of CF who clearly equates a mere operation to shirking and expects me to deal with the request so she can meet her press deadline and she continues to hassle my staff.

And it gets worse. Undeterred by my absence, when she publishes her report it is headed "ACEVO refuses to publish expenses". The fact that no decision on this has been made by me is clearly a mere detail; facts flee before journalistic fantasy. And she caps it off with a report on her blog about ACEVO and the Impact Coalition. I have been peering through the windows at home to see if she was sending journalists out to rout around my dustbins for errant bath plugs!

And on the subject of snide let's turn to the Blog entry that started this all off. Mr Tate writes:-

"The blog of one of these chief execs covers recent/planned visits to New York, Buckingham Palace and the Ritz. Do we think this is good? How much does this cost? Should we know about this?"

Of course Mr Tate does know about all this because he has read it on my Blog. He seems to miss the irony of his call for more transparency when my Blog gives glorious and amusing detail of practically all my meetings and activities. He knows what I get up to and why because it's there for all to read. And indeed comment is free. So I suggest if Mr Tate has any questions about visits to Buckingham Palace etc and their value, he only has to ask on the Blog. Although that would spoil the point obviously.

I regret that the glories of my expenses will make dull reading. I have to pay for my own Duchamp ties. No limousines. No moat around my prison home or room for duck houses paid for by ACEVO. My recent move shockingly paid for by myself. But let me answer his cost questions here.

Expenses claimed for visit to Ritz on a Sunday afternoon to hear President Clinton on the Clinton Global Initiative (I am the only sector CEO there); Zero claimed as I went by tube. And the visit to the Palace to celebrate the 50th anniversary of BTCV - Tom Flood is one of my trustees; Zero claimed from ACEVO as I walked. And New York? Canny ACEVO got the flight in the BA January seat sale. And I was in a 3 star hotel in downtown Chelsea (smart but no breakfast).

For those interested in knowing more I recommend a re-read of the blogs. For the visit to New York read the no less than 7 blogs (23 March – 31 March) which detail the 22 meetings we held and the splendid fact that I was the first UK third sector leader to meet with the new Obama Centre for Social Innovation in the White House. That was cool indeed. Oh and by the way I walked to the White House! But good to be able to blog about it again.

Interestingly, the value of the visit to the States by me and my Strategy Director is that we are now developing plans with a number of non-profits about trans-Atlantic leadership networks and about franchising our Full Cost Business Planner. The latter will be of direct benefit to the US non profit sector but will also involve a return to ACEVO.

Oh dear, all this walking and tubing, I am beginning to worry this makes me sound a puritan, which will never do!

The editor of CF makes the argument that because we receive public money from OTS then we must account for our expenses. But this is a false and indeed dangerous argument. ACEVO is not accountable to the OTS or Government. Indeed we are proud to be independent of them. We are accountable to our ACEVO members. We receive a relatively small amount from OTS for specific strategic advice against a clear contract which requires us to report on outcomes quarterly. We are accountable for the services we provide under that contract. And we are; this is a matter of public record. The issue of our expenses has nothing to do with that and my expenses are not reimbursed from that contract.

But I am happy that if members of ACEVO believe it is important to be open on what my expenses are I shall be. So I shall tell them. That is where my accountability lies. But I do not accept the argument that this implies all charity CEOs should publish their expenses (or indeed details of meetings, when they are in the office or their sick leave records). And as a key part of a CEO job is external and work with stakeholders we do not want to get into a crude debate on whose expenses are the largest or smallest.

Have we not got past these archaic arguments about our capacity and professionalism? This debate reminds me of the destructive arguments on how charities are supposed to have no overheads. Each year we publish our survey of chief executive pay in the sector and I am pleased to see that broadly pay for leaders in the sector is improving. ACEVO’s vision is of a modern, enterprising third sector and as chief executives we have nothing to be ashamed of in claiming for legitimate expenses incurred while doing our jobs effectively.

There is no doubt that governance in the third sector does need to improve. But Charity Finance has completely missed the point of this debate. Any board no matter how competent can scrutinize the expenses of a chief executive and determine whether or not those claims are legitimate. Much harder, but much more important, is for boards to actually communicate the difference the organisation has made to the world and how they have done it. The Intelligent Giving blog made this point perfectly today. This is why I was so keen for ACEVO to take on the running of the Impact Coalition, to stimulate the real arguments about accountability and transparency amongst the sector’s chief executives. This is why ACEVO is running the valuing performance campaign to support leaders in the sector to understand the barriers to better performance management.

Where all these argument may have more force is on Futurebuilders, which I Chair and where all the money for investment comes directly from Government. So there is a wider accountability and I have asked FBE to check what my Chair's expenses have been over the last year and to publish them.

Good to know where our priorities are.


Tania Mason said...

Welcome back to work Stephen. I look forward to being your host at the Charity Awards this evening.

Meanwhile, however, I take issue with some of the points you have made in your blog post, and have responded in more detail on my own blog at Charity Finance, which you can find here:


Janet F said...

Only here in the third sector could we have dragged ourselves down into this unseemly, and unproductive, mess - weak journalism on one side (was this all the hacks at Charity Finance could think of at this time) and a lack of quick thinking on the other (how hard would it have been for someone to just say "yes, happy to give you whatever you want" - that normally shuts up journos).
Much as I still believe that the behaviour of MP's (and other government officals) is something that needs sorting out, to link this to how charity CEO's (including someone working for a relatively small organisation such as acevo) is missing the point big time.
Can we get back to some serious issues?

Roy Norris said...

I posted this on Simon Hebditch's blog on 12 June. Nothing so far persuades me to change my mind.

"This is a typical 3rd sector reaction to a non-issue.

Charities are governed by Trustees who have the responsibilty of deciding what, if any, payments should be made from the charities' funds. If funders are concerned then take it up with the charity not with some self-appointed, self-interested journalists looking out for the next pay cheque. I'd rather see that charities were addressing the issues on their agenda and not pretending that they are MP's by responding to this latest round of media-inspired irrelevancy."

Sir Stephen Bubb said...

Spot on Roy , and you will no doubt have noticed I used your comment in a subsequent blog.As Janet says only in our dear TS could we have dragged ourselves into this mess.

Anonymous said...

A valuable post on leadership

Karim - Mind Power