Friday, 13 September 2013

"Stop moaning and justify your top salaries"

Mr Shawcross has been opining again. In a speech on Thursday, he issued the following words of wisdom: “If trustees feel it is in their charity’s interest to pay high salaries to attract talented people, then they should have the courage of their conviction and explain their decisions publicly. There is no point in moaning how difficult and vital the job is in the 21st century. They must step up and take responsibility for keeping the public informed and for maintaining public support.” 

I doubt you’ll find many trustees who disagree with the idea that they must be able to explain and justify the way they use their charitable funds. Trustees are accountable to donors, funders, supporters and of course our sector’s dedicated regulator. They are legally accountable for allocating their charity’s resources appropriately, in support of its public benefit objectives. They do this job responsibly and well.

Trustees may be confused, however, about the Charity Commission Chair’s recent contributions to this debate. His organisation is supposed to be there to increase public trust in charities. Yet recent media attacks on charities, based on mischaracterisations and misunderstandings, have been vastly strengthened by his widely-publicised views that yes, trustees are at fault for paying their CEOs too much. 

For example, the view that the charity sector is all about volunteers, not paid staff, has led to the absurd suggestion that huge organisations like the International Red Cross, which provides vital support to hundreds of thousands of suffering people across the world, could be led on a part-time basis by a volunteer CEO. In many other sectors the CEO's worth would almost be judged in proportion to their pay. Charities instead make pay proportional to impact.

An informed debate would recognise the diversity of the sector, and the fact that a voluntary leadership model, which might work well for a small community group or local charity, could never be appropriate for a large, international charity on which millions of people rely every day. Of course, we can and do work hard to increase the transparency of our sector, but it seems nothing will please our most relentless critics.

So you would hope that the Charity Commission Chair, in response, might try to inform and educate the public about the wide range of organisations that his Commission regulates. It seems not. Perhaps it’s just easier to follow the crowd.

Fortunately, ACEVO's recent YouGov survey showed that, despite the misleading media furore, the public still trust charities much more than any other sector. Now it's time for the Charity Commission's Chair to get fully behind the cause

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