Agony: Peter Cardy says don't let salaries spiral out of control

The sector veteran offers answers to your workplace dilemmas

Peter Cardy
Peter Cardy

Q. Our board has reviewed our top team salaries and concluded that we are underpaid by between 30 and 50 per cent. The board intends to give us big increases, widening the gap with our direct reports. Several of us are feeling a bit uncomfortable about this: we're conscious that we work for a charity. Any advice?

A. Silly board! It seems to be going down the corporate route, where the herd mentality has created a pay spiral without looking at value to society. If the charity's donors feel that pay is too high, they might stop donating. A Twitter campaign can cause a lot of damage among supporters and volunteers – and the impact on morale can result in staff turnover that you don't need. Is there a sensible trustee you can have an off-the-record conversation with?

Q. Our new chief executive phoned me last night to say he'd been stopped by the police for speeding – in his new company car. He had been to a local group meeting and was late getting home. From what he told me, he was going fast enough for long enough to expect to lose his licence. He phoned me as chair and to ask my advice – I'm also a magistrate – about making a special plea to the court. What advice should I give?

A. At least you're not chairman of the local bench. Whether or not speeding should be regarded as a heinous crime by the general public, by and large it isn't, and even if this incident makes it into the press, it will be forgotten immediately. If he chooses to defend it, it will be news for a day or two longer, so he should probably plead guilty and accept the inevitable ban. It's unlikely to damage the organisation's reputation, but you might still need to consider whether this lapse of judgement was serious enough to demand disciplinary action or even dismissal. There is also the issue of travel as part of his job: I would say the cost of taxis during the ban is his own responsibility and you should pay no more than your standard mileage rate for essential journeys.

Q. The trustees spend far too long looking at the risk register and too little time reading the reports about what the charity actually does. How can I persuade them to pay more attention to what we're supposed to be here for?

A. Make your reports interesting and the risk register boring. Managing risk can become a whole industry, but at least your trustees are looking at it and not just nodding it through. A well-designed risk register can tell you a lot about the charity, in the same way that good accounts can let light into the darker corners. But don't load too many risks onto your register – the board and senior managers should be looking at the top level, not diving into the weeds. Have you got a satisfactory way of categorising risk? Mine is meteorological – climate, weather and hurricane: climate changes slowly, but your usual monitoring detects changes; weather changes rapidly, demanding appropriate precautions, sometimes in a hurry; and hurricanes might devastate the business, but they are rare and precautions are unaffordable. Concentrate on the weather.

Q. Last week I saw one of our trustees coming out of a massage parlour. She didn't see me, but I'm certain it was her. What should I do?

A: Was she a worker or a customer? Was it a legitimate business, rather than somewhere that sells sexual services? If the former, it's probably not your business. If you're sure it's the latter, it almost certainly involves exploitation and could be linked to people-trafficking, which is an outrage even if it's unconnected with your organisation's work. Check your facts before you have a quiet word with her.

Sector veteran Peter Cardy offers answers to your workplace dilemmas. Contact him at

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