Charities named in newspapers' salary probes have suffered a fall in donations, NCVO chair tells MPs

Giving evidence to the Public Administration Select Committee, Martyn Lewis says some donors are switching to smaller, local charities

Martyn Lewis
Martyn Lewis

Some of the organisations highlighted in an investigation into charity chief executive's salaries by The Daily Telegraph newspaper during the summer have suffered a fall in donations, the chair of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations has told MPs.

Giving evidence yesterday to MPs on the Public Administration Select Committee as part of its inquiry into charity chief executive pay, Martyn Lewis said some donors had started giving to other charities instead.

"I think some people are switching their donations," he said. "There is no question some of the charities mentioned have suffered a fall off in donations and from correspondence we get some people are saying they have switched to more local, smaller charities," he said.

But Lewis said he did not think there had been an overall fall in donations as a result of the coverage.

The Daily Telegraph was "right to bring the issue up", he said, and the sector was "responding in the right way" through activities such as NCVO's inquiry into the pay of chief executives, which Lewis is chairing. 

During the hearing, Robert Halfon, Conservative MP for Harlow, suggested that the charity chief executives organisation Acevo was not needed and, instead, an NCVO committee could deal with chief executive issues and save charities from paying membership fees for two trade bodies.

Lewis conceded that "there may be an argument for consolidation" of some charity trade organisations, but said: "We have looked in the past and had conversations about it. You could create an organisation and have a Chinese wall, but the interests of chief executives might sometimes clash with the interests of trustees and we are there to represent trustees and organisations."

Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive of Acevo, told the committee: "I think there is a rationale for a network of charity leaders. If you look at other sectors you will see similar organisations."

He cited organisations including the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, the Confederation of British Industry and the Institute of Directors. "What is important is that we work together," said Bubb.

Mark Wood, chair of the children's charity the NSPCC, agreed with a suggestion from Halfon that charities should list salaries on their websites. He also suggested that charities should be obliged to display figures showing money spent on administration, fundraising and the amount of each pound going to charitable purposes if a consistent way of expressing this across all charities could be found. He said: "That might be a more interesting barometer of effectiveness than individual salaries"

MPs also heard from Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, founder and chief executive of the poverty charity Mary's Meals, who decided to limit pay in his organisation because it works with poor volunteers around the world.

He said that the pay debate could "become a distraction" from looking at the impact of organisations. Mary’s Meals, which provides meals to hungry children, pays him £32,000 a year and the highest paid member of staff receives £45,300. But MacFarlane-Barrow said that his organisation's approach to pay would not suit every charity.

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