Opinion: Call the hounds off the fat cats of charity

As the ban on hunting takes effect, open season is once more declared on the fat cats of the charity sector. A cutting from the East Overshoe Gazette reaches my desk. One of the paper's columnists declares that he will not give to my charity or several others because their chief executives are overpaid.

Soon, perhaps, The Guardian will publish its annual survey of top public and voluntary sector salaries, in which I once again will be one of the few chief executives of large charities to disclose exactly what I am paid. It will be less than that of the chief executives of the large housing associations, but will be pathetic compared with the packages of CEOs at struggling retail chains. Nonetheless, if you are on benefit, a pensioner, or standing in the rain with a collecting box, it will seem grotesque in comparison with what you're making.

How do we respond to Outraged of East Overshoe? It won't wash to tell him that if you look at the hourly rate of a charity chief executive it compares poorly with that of a plumber or a doctor. He won't be convinced by the argument that if you wanted to earn big money you wouldn't be working for a charity - he'll say you should move over and let someone with real commitment do the job. And the idea of a labour market in the voluntary sector is anathema. If you work for a charity, you should be paid charity rates, he'll say, and preferably work for nothing.

In the face of this, there is no point being coy or trying to gloss over the issue; we should be quite straightforward. We are indeed paid charity rates for running highly successful enterprises, if our salaries are compared with those of our for-profit counterparts. Take the income of the 10 largest charities; imagine they are running value-added businesses, so add a zero or two to their turnover. But their chief executives cannot own any part of them, will have no stock options or profit-related bonuses.

The charity fat cats story stems from the public misconception that charities can be run for nothing and efficiently managed at the same time. The remuneration committee meets in two weeks' time, so ask me about my pay in April. Here's the crunch: the trustees have the job of finding a chief executive at the going rate. Like it or not, there is a labour market and there are many other ways of doing good for society and being paid for it. I'm with St Luke in this: "the labourer is worthy of his hire". He was a doctor, wasn't he? I wonder what he'd be earning now.

Peter Cardy is chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Relief

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