Nathan Hollow

Board Director - Head of Health and Social Care - Head of South West

One of the great benefits of working at PLMR is the number of charitable causes we support.

From relatively new organisations like Elizabeth’s Legacy of Hope, that is already making a major difference to people’s lives, to long established charities including Cancer Research UK and Combat Stress, which is approaching its 95th anniversary.

Having such a focus on the sector, this week (as every week) I looked forward with great trepidation to ThirdSector Magazine dropping on to my desk and having a casual perusal of the week’s charity news. The latest edition carried two stories (on the same page no less) regarding the increasingly contentious issue of CEO pay.

For less avid readers, I am talking about nfpSynergy’s latest research highlighting that almost a third of the UK public think that charity chief executives should work for free. At the same time, the Charity Commission and the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator published responses to a consultation on increasing the transparency of senior charity executive pay packets that highlighted many in the sector opposed the idea.

The salaries of senior charity leaders seem to increasingly be a focus of public scrutiny, with many organisations feeling the wrath of both journalists and MPs for the high salaries their top executives are paid. Indeed, just last month the Daily Mail ran the headline, “Fury over £234,000 salary of the top boss at Save the Children” (referring to the international umbrella group). Meanwhile, Save the Children UK’s CEO, Justin Forsyth, is paid £163,000 a year.

What such articles often neglect to mention is the scale of the charities they criticise. Last year Mr Forsyth oversaw an organisation which runs 133 shops across the UK, and spent £317 million. At the same time, Daily Mail Editor, Paul Dacre, was paid £1.85 million (that’s eleven times more).

There is no doubt these headlines fuel public anger, and are likely to lead to more people thinking charity CEOs are overpaid. The challenge, therefore, for those working in charity communications is to ensure that we both fully understand the scale of cynicism amongst the general public, and the need for innovative solutions to demonstrate to donors the real value the organisation adds.

Possible solutions might include: devising communications and fundraising campaigns which focus more on the how the charity supports those it serves, rather than just on their plight; creating a more open dialogue between donors and CEOs, perhaps through publically open meetings or online ‘ask me anything’s’; demonstrating to supporters the range of activities the charity undertakes to support its charitable objectives; or highlighting the depth and breadth of responsibility the executive team has.

Running a charity is clearly not an easy job. It’s not a 9 to 5, it’s not Monday to Friday, and I’m sure many CEOs would testify to the sleepless nights and huge sense of personal responsibility. Overseeing an organisation which may operate internationally and employ hundreds if not thousands of people, and supporting some of society’s – if not the world’s – most excluded and vulnerable individuals – clearly being the CEO of a charity is not a small undertaking.

To use the Save the Children example, their CEO is not just in charge of a medium sized UK retailer, but an organisation investing in international development programmes across more than 120 countries and reaching more than 45 million children. It’s important to remember that many charities will have staff working in unstable areas of the world affected by conflict. This is not a small responsibility.

In an increasingly competitive market place – there are more than 163,000 registered charities in the UK – standing out from the crowd will be tough, but with charitable giving falling last year, and a cynical public on the rise, charities must increasingly adapt to survive.

Nathan Hollow is a PLMR Account Manager with several years’ experience working with the charity sector.

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