Penny Brodie,executive director of Lead Scotland,argues that stories about fat cat salaries in charities hide the reality that most people in the third sector are underpaid
I have been intrigued by all the furore over chief executive and staff pay in the charity sector over the last year. And while there may be a point to some of the criticism, my feeling is that it is surely for the relevant boards and supporters to determine the rights and wrongs of the salaries of their own senior staff. And when some of today’s charities are multi-million pound businesses, the running of them is no easy matter to be done on shoestring.
That being said, the other side to this story is what happens in the vast majority of charitable organisations in Scotland and across the UK.
Lead Scotland is a small, national charity helping to link disabled people to education opportunities. The norm for us over the past five years is far removed from the picture that is being painted in the media at the moment.
Our staff have had no pay rise for the past two years, before that they received just 1%, and for the two years before that they had nothing. For people whose wages were on the low to middle end of salary scales before the pay freezes, one cost of living rise in five years is ridiculously low - hardly what one would call living off the fat of the land.
This is not an easy sector to work in: we are monitored and scrutinised from so many different angles that one sometimes wonder when we have the time to deliver the continuous improvement that is demanded
As the charity’s executive director, I have taken no pay rise at all over the last six years and have in fact reduced my hours from 35 to 28 and then to 21 in order to ensure that funding cuts would not impact on frontline service delivery. My hours have just recently increased to 28 again at the insistence of my board of directors to try and provide sufficient time to find and secure increased funding and new funding sources. 21 hours a week was not enough time for growing and developing our charity, which is critical to our longer term sustainability.
This increase of hours, however, is still at the pay level of my 2008 salary: a level of pay that is extremely modest in comparison to some of the salaries that I have seen quote and challenged in the media.
I don’t dispute that as a sector we should scrutinise the salaries we are paying staff, but this should be set against the backdrop of the wider sector with acknowledgment that high salaries are the exception rather than the norm. We must make informed judgements on the quality of support and service being provided and whether it offers value for money.
I would suggest that the only people who can really comment are those who receive the support of services, the board of directors of the organisation, the funders and the donors and supporters of that charitable endeavour.
So when reading yet another article or letter in the media in relation to fat cat charity chief executive pay, spare a thought for those of us who really are in this for the sole purpose of providing support and services to the most vulnerable in our society. Think about those who are doing everything we possibly can to protect and shelter services from the rigours of the funding landscape, decreasing pots of funding and increasing competition for those funds.
This is not an easy sector to work in: we are monitored and scrutinised from so many different angles that one sometimes wonder when we have the time to deliver the continuous improvement that is demanded and, indeed, required for our beneficiaries.
We are in this business for those that we believe have a right to the services we provide and long may that continue. Perhaps, just perhaps, we may someday be paid a decent wage for the work that we do without it being at the expense of those who need our support to achieve their own ambitions to play an equal part in our society.
Penny Brodie is executive director of Lead Scotland.