Shouldn’t we work for free?

Most of the time charities get a pretty good press and frankly a fairly easy ride from the media. Every now and then we don’t and some aspect of what we do comes under more searching scrutiny. I think that’s a good thing, honestly. Charities raise large sums of money from the public, deliver all kinds of critical services and we should be accountable for what we do.

But of all the aspects of what we do and don’t do as a sector, the single subject which seems to generate most heat is the pay of senior executives. Stories about CEO pay now run quite frequently, usually in the right wing press but as that’s most of the papers in the UK, no less a problem for that . So far there haven’t been too many pieces specifically about fundraisers but these will come I am sure, our profession is relatively well paid by charity standards and most donors don’t understand why we are needed at all.

So we can expect as a sector and, perhaps increasingly individually to have to justify why we earn what we do. Now we can rail about how unfair all of this, our rewards are minuscule compared to bankers, or newspaper executives for that matter. But to our donors, many of whom are elderly and on modest incomes, they can appear to be pretty high.

Our instincts as a sector tend to be to avoid this stuff. Keep our heads down and hope we are not the ones picked on. Hope the media will be content with cutting down the tallest daisies (Save the Children spring to mind..) and leave the rest of us alone. But this won’t wash. Donors usually can’t relate a specific scandal to an individual charity so it ends up hurting all of us.

We need to be a bit braver. We should be proud of the work we do and the difference we make to the world. Most of us are exceptionally committed and work well in excess of our contracted hours doing stuff that is very challenging. Any fundraiser who is any good could easily make significantly more money by working for a profit making organisation. And the ones who aren’t good get found out quite quickly. Personally, I think I know the value I add and what I’m worth and I feel I’m entitled to a reasonable standard of living as a result. And I’ve been fortunate enough to find employers, generally, who seem to agree.

When I have such conversations with donors, it is interesting that people generally get the point. Fundraising is really hard and it is far too important to leave to well meaning amateurs. You wouldn’t put an amateur in charge of a bank. Unless you were the Co-op and see how that worked out. You need skilled, professional people and they need reasonable rewards.

That doesn’t mean that everything the charities do in this area is right. There are abuses. I think they are pretty exceptional and for every Halo Trust CEO having his private school fees paid (what were they thinking?) there are a hundred modestly paid charity executives working their backsides off. But we should still denounce the bad apples when they turn up.

Much more often though we need to just be upfront and proud of what we get for what we do.

Overall, we are worth it. Aren’t’ we?

We M

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