NCVO unveils text explaining how charities work

The narrative was tested on focus groups but a source has told Third Sector that some participants were not impressed by the statement produced

NCVO building
NCVO building

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations has unveiled a text it developed with more than £15,000 of donations to help charities explain how they work and why they do what they do.

The umbrella body has said that attempts by charities to justify the pay of their chief executives served only to increase the public’s anger about the sector.

The text – called a "narrative" by the NCVO – and advice for charities on talking about executive pay were published by the umbrella body last week after being presented to an audience of charity chief executives at a June meeting hosted by the body and the charity leaders organisation Acevo.

The narrative has been reproduced in full on the right.

It was originally developed by the Understanding Charities Group, an initiative launched by CharityComms and the NCVO in 2014 to tackle negative coverage of the sector.

The group received £16,400 from organisations including the British Heart Foundation, the MS Society, Arthritis Research UK and the accountancy firm Kingston Smith in order to develop it.

In addition to the initiative’s funders, organisations that helped to develop the narrative included ActionAid, the Association of Chairs, Barnardo’s, the Charities Aid Foundation, the Disasters Emergency Committee, Friends of the Earth, Guide Dogs, the Institute of Fundraising, NPC, Scope and Shelter.

The narrative was tested on two focus groups of charity supporters and another two of non-charity supporters. The groups, which each consisted of eight people aged between 30 and 55, were also asked for their ideas on improving trust in the sector.

The NCVO’s presentation says feedback from the groups indicated that attempting to justify chief executive pay would only anger people because they would rather charities changed their ways instead. "CEO pay goes above and beyond the public’s view of what is acceptable," the presentation says.

"The need for charities to have an experienced workforce requiring payment is accepted, but CEO pay is seen to be too high for what people feel is a public service role."

But a source close to the process said they did not believe the narrative in its current form was the solution to the public’s distaste for high salaries.

The source, who did not wish to be named, said it would be more effective if it did justify the salaries because it was clear that charities were not prepared to reduce the amount they paid staff. "We’ve just got the make the public live with it," the source said.

The source said there were occasions when charities had changed their practices – particularly relating to fundraising – and these should also be highlighted in the text.

The source said they did not think the focus group participants were very impressed by the narrative but that the NCVO and CharityComms went ahead with it regardless because they had already decided how they wanted it to be.

But Chloe Stables, external relations manager at the NCVO, said this was not the case – the narrative had been changed and refined after focus group feedback to make it resonate better with the public, she said.

She said the focus group research had clearly indicated that, although charities can try to present the decisions they make in the best possible way, no amount of good words would assuage public concern about practices with which they were fundamentally unhappy.

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