Susan Smith says it may seem obvious, but the message that good charities need good staff still isn't reaching the public
The gloves came off again this week over the issue of charity chief executive pay, which less than half the public believe in apparently.
Third sector think tank NFP Synergy revealed this fact, uncovered in a recent public poll, only to be lambasted by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations for daring to ask the question in the first place.
By putting the question out there, NFP Synergy gives credence to scaremongering about the effectiveness of charities. On the other hand, not asking would be a bit like not polling on whether people were going to vote UKIP because we think they shouldn’t.
It is not the poll that has created the idea that charity chief executives are a bunch of fat cats enjoying champagne receptions and six figure salaries. That notion comes from a concerted campaign in the right-wing (not just tabloid) media perpetuated by Tory politicians over the last few years.
The third sector needs to know what people think. These results suggest the public has at best little understanding of what charities do, and at worst, a growing distrust of charities, which for a sector increasingly reliant on public giving, is a worry.
While public perceptions in Scotland are likely to be a little different – NFP Synergy doesn’t give a breakdown from across the UK – the third sector shouldn’t be complacent here either.
So, how to respond? Not by shirking away from the issue or getting sucked into the rhetoric. The third sector in Scotland has nothing to be ashamed of. Cutting salaries, working conditions and training budgets for fear of media backlash will serve only to create a third sector that deserves to be lambasted in the press.
Strong, well-run services staffed by competent and capable people at all levels win public trust. What the sector could do better, however, is shout about this success more. Sometimes, unfortunately, the public needs the obvious pointed out to them.
In this case, the obvious is that our society is significantly better off with a strong third sector employing caring staff committed to their work.
Susan Smith is editor of Third Force News
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