When people say charity employees should work for free

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I was recently getting to know someone when the conversation lead to what I do as a job. He seemed very interested my work as a fundraiser and was asking lots of questions about our mission; all was well… Until he said ‘I don’t understand though, shouldn’t people in charities work for free?’

Damn – another one bites the dust!

Why is it that this assumption is still being made? Why do charities still have to justify paying for talent and skills to bring their missions to fruition? Yes, there are a small number of very large charities that pay six-figure salaries to their chief executives, however the trend is that salaries of that scale are only given when the charities have an annual revenue of more than £25m! Not exactly standard in the sector when you consider that approximately 25% of charities have a turnover of less than £100,000 per year!

If you are talented, driven and benefitting your cause with the work that you do, why shouldn’t you be paid a fair and appropriate salary for your contribution? And if a charity is offering a low salary for a job that requires expertise and extensive knowledge, they run the risk of hiring under qualified, inexperienced staff, which will ultimately harm the organisation and prevent it from achieving its’ goal. The salaries need to match the role.

If your organisation is transparent in their spending and income and salaries are clearly demonstrated for donors to see and scrutinise, then it is in the donors’ hands to decide if the charity is spending money appropriately in an effort to fulfil their mission. Being a fundraiser does not mean working for no salary, but it does mean working as hard as possible to ensure your organisation is getting the best value for their investment in your skills, knowledge and experience.

Building trust with supporters is essential in ensuring their continued interest and contribution. If a charity is up front with their information, and is spending in a responsible way to ensure their mission is carried why shouldn’t they pay their hard-working staff?

Have you ever been questioned about paying staff at your organisation? Do you agree that pay should match the skills required for any job, even if it is in the non-profit sector? How would you answer someone questioning charity pay? I’d love to hear from you and get your experiences!

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2 thoughts on “When people say charity employees should work for free

  1. Hi David,
    One could argue that nobody in society, from Jose Mourinho to Sir Phillip Green should be paid between £150,000 – £250,000 (or more). And perhaps neither should headteachers, consultants, council bosses or anyone else who is receiving public funds be paid that amount.

    However, we live in a society where pay is equal to ability. In the charity sector, trustees set the level of pay for their CEO in order to attract the right talent to achieve the organisations’ objectives. Some boards of trustees of charities feel it is needed to pay that amount of money in order to achieve it’s objectives – let’s say the charity is looking to expand or start looking at commercial enterprises – then it could be justified for a medium-sized charities to pay someone that type of salary to achieve these objectives and therefore increase income for that charity.

    If paying someone £200,000 helps to raise in excess of £500,000 for the charity then surely that’s justified compared to paying someone £100,000 who only raises £200,000. Therefore by employing a CEO on £200k would increase charity income by £200,000 more than if you paid someone £100k. Important to think about impact, not just salary levels!

    And worth pointing out that CEO’s don’t set their own pay. That is the job of the trustees as custodians of the charity. If you have a charity you support that you feel is paying the CEO too much, then ask how they justify the salary and take it up with the trustees.

    Perhaps higher salaries is not something you agree with for charities or any other sector – but that’s a different issue which I agree with, but charities need to play by the rules of society to some extent and have to do what is necessary to compete with the huge salaries offered in the private sector.

    Do bosses at medium-sized charities need to be paid that much? Probably not – but if it helps the charity achieve it’s objectives more successfully than someone paid £50,000, then it is needed for the charity. Perhaps if we could encourage the best strategists, leaders and managers by paying £500k+ then we can solve society’s problems even more successfully – which is surely what we all want?

    You might want to read the NCVO’s excellent report on senior exec pay in the sector which explains things in more detail than I have here – https://www.ncvo.org.uk/images/documents/about_us/our-finances-and-pay/Executive_Pay_Report.pdf

    Liked by 1 person

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