Pay anomalies and the dog's breakfast

Our study of top salaries reveals a difference in attitudes towards charities that solicit funds from the public and those that sell services, writes the editor of Third Sector

Stephen Cook
Stephen Cook

You don't hear certain Conservative backwoodsmen complaining about a (charitable) private hospital in Harley Street paying its highest earner more than £850,000 a year or the Royal Opera House (a charity) paying its music director £566,000. But show them a development charity that pays its leader £120,000 to run a hugely complex organisation with an income of £350m, and they start pontificating from a great height, even though private companies of the same size pay far more.

There is a kind of logic: they presumably see a distinction between charities that solicit funds from the public, thereby raising suspicion in some minds that the staff could be freeloading, and those (often not recognised as charities) whose income comes from selling services to wealthier members of the public.

But this and other anomalies laid bare by our latest study of top salaries (see features section) serve to illustrate the difficulty faced by the recently launched Understanding Charities initiative and the timeliness of the decision by the Baring Foundation to launch a new commission of inquiry on the sector, which has become - to put it uncharitably - a bit of a dog's breakfast.

Citizens Advice is yet another kind of charity. It oversees a network of publicly funded services, which makes some sceptics doubt it should be a charity at all. In our interview, its chief executive, Gillian Guy, mentions the balancing act between using public money and challenging government policy.

The Charity Finance Group has found out the hard way that you can never be quite sure what will happen when you embark on an ambitious change programme: see our analysis. But it's confident it's still on course with its mission of promoting financial expertise at all levels of the sector - which is good news.

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