Craig Dearden-Phillips: Charities must pay proper money to attract and keep good chief executives

Senior management roles in charities are usually highly stressful and often lack the perks that managers receive in other sectors, writes our columnist

Craig Dearden-Phillips
Craig Dearden-Phillips

When I turned on the Today programme on Radio 4 the other morning I found myself listening to Sir Stephen Bubb defending charity CEO pay. Later that day I was called by Channel 5's 5 News asking me to go on against him to say that charity chiefs get paid too much. I know August is a quiet news month but this was a bit much ... Anyway, I was having none of it.

I find it ridiculous that this sector is being dragged into the news in this way. Bizarrely, the Finger-Pointer-in-Chief, in cahoots with the Daily Telegraph, appears to be none other than the chair of the Charity Commission - who happens to get 50 grand a year for his part-time trouble. Nice work, sir.

On reflection, I wish I had accepted Channel 5's offer, because I would, as an ex-charity CEO, have said that most charity CEOs should get paid a bit more - and in some cases, a lot more. Yes, I would happily have gone on record to say that for most people, including myself, the money on offer is often not enough to compensate for the life the job imposes on you: the 70-hour week, the tricksy board and the endless travel.

Make no mistake: to lead a charity you have to make difficult choices. Your family life is seldom as good as most of the people working for you because you have far less time. You feel utterly preoccupied by your role. Job security is poor because if you fall out with your board, that is it. And you are probably less in control of the organisation than you would be if leading in the private or public sector. The skills are those of a conductor more than a commander. You have to be on top of your game, every day.

In short, it's a tough gig, and if we are to have anyone other than single people or empty-nesters doing these jobs, we need not only to make them less punishing, but also to ensure that the financial rewards stack up.

I say this from experience. Outside the charity sector, I now earn more than twice as much, have twice as much holiday and seldom work more than 50 hours a week. My mental health is better and my family life far happier.

In fact, I can't now believe that I put everything on the line for sixty-odd grand a year. Yet many would call me an overpaid whinger. After all, isn't this the same for many people working in charities further down the chain? Maybe it is, but that doesn't make it right to be under-rewarded, and I for one voted with my feet and walked out of the sector.

Will I come back? One day I might, particularly if offered a nice part-time number, like chair of the Charity Commission. But I doubt it, really, particularly while my kids are at home. I know many others, many far more talented than me, who feel the same way about charity careers.

Until we sort this one out and pay proper money I suspect we will always struggle to attract and retain the numbers of highly capable people the sector desperately needs.

Contact Craig, who writes in a personal capacity, at www.stepping-out.biz.

- Read other stories on charity pay by visiting our Big Issue

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