Opinion: And the winners are... the employees

Peter Cardy, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Relief

We've been celebrating the Year of the Volunteer, in addition to the annual volunteers' week we have celebrated for more than 20 years.

As I wrote in this column (Third Sector, 27 May), we still have a long way to go to recognise and support the volunteers who are the bedrock of many charities. But we have a long way to go to recognise the paid staff, too.

"Barclays yesterday revealed one of the City's most closely guarded secrets by giving details of the £15m pay package of its head of investment banking Bob Diamond." "Phoenix Four to net millions from Rover crash." "When Philip Green (the other one) disembarks from P&O Nedlloyd, he'll leave with a payoff and incentive shares worth £5m." These are the kind of news items you scan without taking in, so divorced do they seem from life in the voluntary sector. But they do make me wonder whether rational argument about trust in charities is a feasible pursuit for Acevo when millions of shareholders find rewards such as these normal.

Vastly outnumbered by 900,000 trustees and the millions of volunteers who give British society its unique character, the Charity Commission estimates there are about 600,000 charity employees. There isn't a week for charity staff, no recognition sponsored by Gordon Brown, often no thanks - they're generally the ones who are supposed to thank the volunteers.

This year I'm trying to meet all 650 of the Macmillan core staff across the UK to explain where the charity is heading, answer questions or listen to home truths and thank them for their work. Modest enough recompense for stellar teamwork.

There are high-profile awards, including Third Sector's own back-slapping fest and, of course, the opaque public honours system. But these mostly recognise individuals who have done something conspicuous. The quiet people who work away year in, year out, motivated by care or duty, who keep the charities afloat are often unrecognised. Charities are often inhibited about giving even token gifts for long or good service in case they're thought to be misapplying funds.

It's time we recognised the symbiotic relationship between charity volunteers and paid workers. What paid staff do is provide the scaffolding that enables volunteers to work effectively. That provides the substructure of confidence, competence and continuity that makes the difference between amateur and voluntary.

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