Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, said he was disappointed with coverage in The Sun newspaper today of the amount his charity spends on its staff and called for sector bodies to come together to try to bring up to date the media’s ideas about how charities are run.
Speaking to Third Sector this morning, Hughes said the sector needed to modernise the media and the public’s understanding of the way charities work.
"As a sector we need to help the public and the media better understand the way in which professional staff work with volunteers to support the most vulnerable," he said.
"We probably need to see the different industry bodies coming together and saying ‘how do we move the public understanding into an understanding of how charities work today?’ The last time I saw the charity sector working in a joined-up way to bring about change was when we got Gift Aid introduced."
Hughes was reacting to a story in The Sun today that was headlined "Alzheimer’s £42m blown on staff" and claimed 50p of every pound donated to the Alzheimer’s Society was spent on staff wages and pensions.
The story was based on figures contained in the society’s 2013/14 annual report, which was published nine months ago.
Hughes said: "We’re disappointed with the way The Sun has reported what we do, despite our best efforts to explain to them the nature of the charity.
"What we do is provide support to tens of thousands of people with dementia through 3,000 local services, which are run by staff and volunteers together, with a three-to-one ratio of volunteers to staff. But the staff are absolutely vital to the running of our services – they’re the trained people who have the expertise in dementia care to support people across the country. For The Sun to suggest that it’s inappropriate for us to spend the money people donate to us on salaries is to miss the point."
Hughes also took exception to the article’s suggestion, based on a quote from "an Alzheimer’s Society’s source", that the charity should not be run like a business and defended his pay, which The Sun said was likely to be in the £130,000-to-£140,000 band.
"A more perennial problem that we as a sector face is the suggestion that we shouldn’t be run in a businesslike way," he said. "The opposite of being businesslike is to be inefficient and amateur, and I don’t think anyone would expect us to do that with publicly donated funds. This mistaken idea that being run in an efficient way is a bad thing is a sad reflection of people not understanding how charities should best be run."
Of his pay, Hughes pointed out it was set by the board of trustees and, "as The Sun points out, is not as high as that of chief executives in other comparable charities".
He added: "Our pay for everybody in the society, including myself, is set on a benchmark scale against sector pay, which tends to be below comparable jobs in the NHS or social services, let alone the commercial sector. Our position is that we should be paying in the upper quartile of the pay for the sector so that we get the best people."
The Sun’s story, which came after its focus yesterday on the money Save the Children had paid to an advertising agency that was founded by the brother of its chief executive, was accompanied by a short editorial reading: "The Alzheimer’s Society is a vital organisation that helps some of the nation’s most vulnerable people and their families. But that doesn’t mean bosses can help themselves to inflated pay packets donated by kind-hearted Brits. When we donate to charity we expect most of it to go where it is needed. Too much of the charity sector in Britain is a Wild West. It needs to come clean."
Hughes said the opening line of the editorial was good and he appreciated The Sun’s past coverage of the charity.