Paying Charity CEOs large amounts isn't as bad as it looks

A turn-off, but not a scandal.

The Charity Commission warns that spiralling levels of chief executive pay risk bringing organisations and the wider charitable sector into disrepute, following news in the Telegraph that 30 charity chiefs are paid more than £100,000.

High levels of pay and administration costs can be a real turn off. This comes from a natural desire to ensure that money is well-spent, which for a number of people means as much money as possible goes directly to the front-line, to helping people most in need.

To begin with, if all the money goes to the frontline, but staff at the front-line are being ineffective because the strategy’s poor, then that money’s been badly spent. For us, there isn’t a level at which pay in the charity sector becomes too high; charities are trying to solve some of our most stubborn social problems and they need to attract talent to be able to do that.

Pay in charities is a much more finely balanced argument than is usually supposed. We’ve put together some advice on how donors can think about whether or not giving to a charity with high salaries should be a cause for concern:

First, and most importantly, it’s all about impact. Knowing that children have been sponsored or that schools have been built isn’t enough: you need to know exactly what difference the charity is making, and how this is happening. Action on Hearing Loss’s annual report provides a summary of what it has achieved against its aims, which helps donors decide whether the organisation spends their money well.

Second, you need to consider the complexity of the charity. The CEO of Oxfam is paid £120,000, and is responsible for a £360 million budget, 700 shops in the UK and 5,000 employees and 20,000 volunteers who work in over 90 countries across the world—some of them very risky places to be. £120,000 doesn’t feel like a lot in the context of that job description. The CEO of Next also runs 700 shops (but no humanitarian aid) and gets nearly £1.5m. Of course, this is all proportionate to the task and budget at hand: you don’t want a £500,000 income charity to spend £100,000 on its CEO’s salary.

Third, although its difficult to tell from the outside, what value is the CEO bringing? Have they increased the charity’s profile and fundraising? Have they devised a good strategy? If the case is that you need to pay up for talent, then supporters should be able to see the fruits of that talent.

Finally, it’s worth thinking about the quality of the staff throughout the organisation. If the charity is making an argument that they need to pay well to attract the best staff at the top, then you want them to apply the same logic to front-line staff. Medicins Sans Frontières has a rule that the chief executive can’t be paid more than three times the pay of the lowest paid member of staff.

By making the judgement call based on these factors — and not on gut feelings about pay — more money will be well spent. We’d like to see the impact of the UK’s leading aid charities make the headlines, instead of six-figure salaries that really say nothing on their own.

Angela Kail is head of Funder Effectiveness at New Philanthropy Capital, which helps donors choose effective charities

This piece first appeared on Spear's.

Photograph: Getty Images

This is a story from the team at Spears magazine.

Photo: Getty Images
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Why are boundary changes bad for Labour?

New boundaries, a smaller House of Commons and the shift to individual electoral registration all tilt the electoral battlefield further towards the Conservatives. Why?

The government has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to reduce the House of Commons to 600 seats from 650.  Why is that such bad news for the Labour Party? 

The damage is twofold. The switch to individual electoral registration will hurt Labour more than its rivals. . Constituency boundaries in Britain are drawn on registered electors, not by population - the average seat has around 70,000 voters but a population of 90,000, although there are significant variations within that. On the whole, at present, Labour MPs tend to have seats with fewer voters than their Conservative counterparts. These changes were halted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition years but are now back on course.

The new, 600-member constituencies will all but eliminate those variations on mainland Britain, although the Isle of Wight, and the Scottish island constituencies will remain special cases. The net effect will be to reduce the number of Labour seats - and to make the remaining seats more marginal. (Of the 50 seats that would have been eradicated had the 2013 review taken place, 35 were held by Labour, including deputy leader Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East.)

Why will Labour seats become more marginal? For the most part, as seats expand, they will take on increasing numbers of suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Conservative. The city of Leicester is a good example: currently the city sends three Labour MPs to Westminster, each with large majorities. Under boundary changes, all three could become more marginal as they take on more wards from the surrounding county. Liz Kendall's Leicester West seat is likely to have a particularly large influx of Tory voters, turning the seat - a Labour stronghold since 1945 - into a marginal. 

The pattern is fairly consistent throughout the United Kingdom - Labour safe seats either vanishing or becoming marginal or even Tory seats. On Merseyside, three seats - Frank Field's Birkenhead, a Labour seat since 1950, and two marginal Labour held seats, Wirral South and Wirral West - will become two: a safe Labour seat, and a safe Conservative seat on the Wirral. Lillian Greenwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, would see her Nottingham seat take more of the Nottinghamshire countryside, becoming a Conservative-held marginal. 

The traffic - at least in the 2013 review - was not entirely one-way. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP for Battersea, would find herself fighting a seat with a notional Labour majority of just under 3,000, as opposed to her current majority of close to 8,000. 

But the net effect of the boundary review and the shrinking of the size of the House of Commons would be to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the 2015 election had been held using the 2013 boundaries, the Tories would have a majority of 22 – and Labour would have just 216 seats against 232 now.

It may be, however, that Labour dodges a bullet – because while the boundary changes would have given the Conservatives a bigger majority, they would have significantly fewer MPs – down to 311 from 330, a loss of 19 members of Parliament. Although the whips are attempting to steady the nerves of backbenchers about the potential loss of their seats, that the number of Conservative MPs who face involuntary retirement due to boundary changes is bigger than the party’s parliamentary majority may force a U-Turn.

That said, Labour’s relatively weak electoral showing may calm jittery Tory MPs. Two months into Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour averaged 39 per cent in the polls. They got 31 per cent of the vote in 2015. Two months into Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour were on 53 per cent of the vote. They got 43 per cent of the vote. A month and a half into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour is on 31 per cent of the vote.  A Blair-style drop of ten points would see the Tories net 388 seats under the new boundaries, with Labour on 131. A smaller Miliband-style drop would give the Conservatives 364, and leave Labour with 153 MPs.  

On Labour’s current trajectory, Tory MPs who lose out due to boundary changes may feel comfortable in their chances of picking up a seat elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.