Personal responsibility is the key factor in US giving habits

Plus: Excessive salaries for charity chiefs are morally repugnant, how contracts and compliance are squeezing charities

Cultural difference: In the US, some road cleaning is a charitable activity
Cultural difference: In the US, some road cleaning is a charitable activity

Personal responsibility is the key factor in US giving habits

I read with interest Caroline Fiennes' recent column on the giving culture in the US. I'm a transplant from the UK to the US and I have travelled between the two all my life. It wasn't until I moved to the US in 2006 that I finally understood where the true difference in culture lies.

It is not about giving, although that is part of it. It is really about personal engagement. It is about creating multiple, interlocking communities and networks, and supporting them with time, influence, money or a combination of all three.

It's a pragmatic approach. If there are problems, fix them. Don't wait for government to catch up. Get on and do it, because the community-based solution is going to be more effective and sustainable.

Corporate giving is low in the US. But look at individual giving at every level in each corporation and you'd be surprised how high it is: the expectation is that you should accept the responsibility to give and engage yourself.

Alexis de Tocqueville, the French political thinker, was right to emphasise civil society and community as the basis of US politics and society in his book Democracy in America, published in two volumes in 1835 and 1840. Reading it again, I think the US has a model that's unique and successful. But I agree that comparisons are unhelpful: every culture takes an individual approach to community engagement, and every culture succeeds or fails on its own terms.

Andrew Watt, President and chief executive, Association of Fundraising Professionals, Arlington, Virginia, USA

Excessive salaries for charity chiefs are morally repugnant

I read your pay study article and editorial with much interest. I'm no supporter of Conservative backwoodsmen, still less of many of their views, but I cannot agree with the arguments in favour of paying high salaries to charity leaders.

Most of us have job choices. Some choose a career such as hedge-fund management, which pays telephone number salaries with bonuses to match. That's fine if making money is your sole or principal interest in life.

At the other end of the scale, other people choose to work in the charity field because we want to help disadvantaged, underprivileged or disabled people, save the environment or improve local services for those who need them, among many reasons. We make a conscious decision to sacrifice high monetary reward in exchange for the knowledge that we are using our leadership skills and business acumen to benefit those less fortunate than ourselves, rather than simply building up a large bank balance and enjoying a luxurious lifestyle.

To pay a senior executive of a charity between £850,000 and £860,000 a year seems excessive by any standards – yet that is how much the private charitable hospital the London Clinic pays, according to your table. One might argue that if a hospital is private, it cannot also be a charity; it is difficult to see what public benefit such an establishment offers. Independent schools at least offer bursaries to those whose parents cannot afford their fees, but I have never heard of a private hospital offering treatment for free to people without health insurance who cannot afford their charges.

Paying a charity chief executive £78,839 (table, page 39) seems to me a fair and reasonable remuneration. But I find some of the figures quoted for specific charities – such as Save the Children International, which paid its highest earner between £257,000 and £267,000 and had a further 184 people earning more than £60,000 – repugnant. These new-style chief executives want to have their cake and eat it: they seek the warmth of public approval and the moral high ground of running a charity rather than a profit-making business, but they are not prepared to make the appropriate financial sacrifices to go with their often new-found morality.

Jimmy James, Wellingborough, Northamptonshire

The squeeze on many charities is due to contracts and compliance

With regard to your article about charities with incomes of between £100,000 and £1m a year experiencing the squeeze the most, it might be that some are feeling that squeeze because they are chasing contracts. It also demonstrates yet again that the third sector varies widely.

As the chief executive of a charity with an income of about £3m a year, chasing contracts does not really enter into our thinking. We don't do it.

However, one thing that is apparent to me, having run charities for nearly 40 years, is that bureaucracy is now at such a level that many charities are going to eat up a disproportionate amount of income on compliance. The levels of compliance required will depend on what sort of charity you are, but to be fully compliant with all the legislation requires significant staffing levels.

It is arguable that a charity with an income of about £1m a year will struggle to be fully compliant without expending an unacceptable proportion of its income on governance, fundraising, administration and other overheads.

John Burton, chief executive, World Land Trust, Halesworth, Suffolk

Please send letters to or Third Sector, Teddington Studios, Broom Road, Teddington TW11 9BE

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