If you think that charities are having a hard time in the media at moment, spare a thought for our Irish colleagues. There it has felt like it’s been open season on the sector for months. There seems to be a new attack in a major newspaper or other media outlet almost every day.
For those unfamiliar with this sorry tale, the catalyst was the discovery last year that a major health organisation, the Central Remedial Clinic was using charitable funds to secretly top up the salaries of senior staff. The story, fuelled the pretty lamentable attempts at explanation by the Clinic has run and spread to other organisations, mostly health charities with large government funding. The latest charity in the firing line is Rehab whose troubles began when they repeatedly refused to disclose the pay of their CEO (until finally forced to do so last week) and escalated from there, including inter alia, the profits (or lack of them) of their lotteries and now covering allegations of misuse of state funds. All this has generated a rising tide of media hysteria, including recently the coining of a new term, “charitocracy” to describe the people who run national charities.
When you look at the stories behind the lurid headlines, the charities often actually have a reasonable case to make. The salaries being paid to senior executives do look pretty generous but not outrageous for senior roles running large, complex organisations. There’s a strong case to be made that charities should pay properly to get the right talent. The lottery story seems at best a partial picture. And so on. There’s an awful lot of politics being played here and truth is always easy to find.
But what’s killing these organisations and by extension, the sector in Ireland is lack of transparency.
I don’t know who is advising these organisations on their PR strategy but whoever they are, they should be shot. (If their advice is being listened to that is. At least as likely it is boards making these calamitous decisions).
Under fire, CRC and Rehab have repeatedly provided as little information as they could get away with. They come across as organisations with something to hide. One example of many is Rehab’s refusal to provide details of their CEO’s salary until the government more or less forced it out of them. They then grudgingly provided this figure (which most people had worked out anyway) but then, brilliantly, announced that figures for their other top executives wouldn’t be provided until 2016! You couldn’t make it up…
On one level this is a local story about a small number of organisations. It’s bad news for fundraisers in Ireland but is there relevance beyond this? I think there is.
While there are always one or two bad apples, our sector in general is made up of good people trying to do worthwhile things. A great deal is achieved with modest resources. The world would be a much sorrier place if we weren’t around.
So what have we got to hide?
We ought to welcome people asking us questions. We shouldn’t wait to be asked. I’m proud of the work all of the charities I have worked for do and of the fact that their staff are paid so modestly for the amazing contribution they make.
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