Thursday 7 March 2013

Being patronised

Gina Miller has a long career in events and marketing but runs Miller Philanthropy which distributes money from the proceeds of hedge funds. Together with her husband she runs SCM Private, an investment management organisation, so clearly she has strong experience on which to tell us how to run charities; which she did in the Daily Telegraph yesterday.

She is demanding that the Charity Commission give us a limit on what we spend on what she dismisses as " administration' (you can almost hear the lip curling) . It costs hundreds and thousands to train and pay pilots, insure staff, and maintain air ambulance services, so what metric does Mrs Miller suggest we use that makes it easy for the public to compare this to the costs of running a small family foundation with no staff and see which is making the most effective use of its charitable funds? It's an irony that will be lost on her, but those of us with careers (gasp!) in this sector have in fact been pondering these issues in detail for many years.

Presumably, we must wave our magic wands to get the aid from the tarmac at Heathrow into Africa. And heaven help us if we might actually want to develop our strategy, our communications and marketing, manage volunteers, pay energy bills; meet regulatory requirements, abide by employment law, provide pensions and comfortable working conditions for staff who already earn less than those in the private sector (I could go on). All this is dismissed as “administration" which she airily tells us we must keep to a low percentage.

I assume part of the due diligence process in hedge funds, looking at the companies, is to see they run their show professionally, with ambitious and talented people, effective and professional services to support product development and expansion. Vulnerable people are just as entitled to the best quality and professionally run services as well.

Not content with sharing her views on administration she turns her attention to “careerists", her article condemns them. She criticises:

"the salaries paid to some voluntary sector employees and said there were too many "careerists" in the sector, who moved between roles simply to climb the career ladder and get larger salaries, not because they were passionate about the causes."

Should we not employ talented and professional people who are just as committed to social action in general, and are successful at it, as Mr Miller is committed to making money in general? Should we keep and develop those people so they ensure top quality services to beneficiaries? Mrs Miller thinks we simple charity workers are not capable of feeling passionate about more than one cause in a lifetime and to do so is a sign of greed and shallowness.

Never mind that we undertake much of the research in the health service on cancer or on motor neurone disease where employing highly skilled people with ambition is crucial. Or talented fundraisers who get people to give more? Or strategists and communications staff who put across the charity case and campaign for change.

Wanting a career is a good thing Mrs Miller.

Finally is it not a bit ripe being lectured by someone who boasts of a £200million fortune about our salary levels? Particularly when such wealth is generated in an industry where the level of salaries are beyond outrageous.

I suspect it is probably some time since Mrs Miller had to worry about demeaning things like mortgages and pensions but why does she think we are not entitled to them? Or does she think we are a playground for retired rich people to do a bit of volunteering. She may like Downton Abbey. So do I. But I don't expect our charity world to mirror it. The days when we ran charities as playgrounds for the aristocracy and rich to do good in their spare time are long gone.

She writes disparagingly of ‘the business of charity’. Charity is a serious business, millions of beneficiaries rely on charities’ ability to keep providing essential services, including during tough economic conditions. Volunteers are the lifeblood of charities all over the country, but the responsibility of leadership cannot be left to amateurs, however enthusiastic. It requires committed and experienced professionals capable of leading complex organisations through a huge range of challenges. Would you want the charity providing you with care and support in your old age to be led by a professional or a part-timer? To thrive, charities need not just passion, but the right experience and skills, and there is no reason why the two should not go together. In my experience, charity CEOs combine exceptional professionalism with undiminished commitment to the people and causes they serve.

Thank you for sharing your views with us Mrs Miller. I'm proud we have a sector where you can work professionally, have a career and expect to receive a decent salary in return for your commitment. Long may that continue and grow.

Stephen Bubb