New key messages devised by the ImpACT Coalition – which aim to dispel common myths about charities – have been tested in a series of focus groups run by nfpSynergy.
The messages included several designed to counter objections to the supposedly high levels of CEO salaries, as reported in the media last summer. These included potential statements such as:
- Our CEO took a 30 per cent salary cut to come here
- Head teachers and doctors are paid six-figure salaries, why shouldn’t charity chiefs get the same?
- If our CEO worked in government or business, they’d be paid more
- Our CEO hasn’t had a pay rise in four years.
The messages were tested in three focus groups yesterday consisting of young, middle-aged, and older people, all of whom were charity donors.
Most of the messages dealing directly with remuneration were dismissed by the middle-aged focus group. For example, the proposed statement that a CEO hadn’t taken a pay rise in four years merely prompted questions about how high their salary must have been to start with. And in response to the proposed statement that a CEO might have taken a salary cut to move to a charity, one participant said sarcastically: “Give him a medal.”
Charities need to pay competitive salaries
They also thought that charity staff ought to be more motivated by compassion and benevolence to do their jobs than financial gain.
However, they did accept that sometimes charities needed to pay competitive salaries. A number of participants said they wouldn’t be able to afford to work at a charity if it meant taking a pay cut. And they were more reassured by messages relating to how charities are regulated by the Charity Commission, such as ‘every charity has to submit its accounts’; and how charities managed admin costs, such as ‘no staff member travels first class on expenses’.
[quote align=”right” color=”#999999″]”The sector has been trying to justify these salaries to people who simply believe they are unjustifiable”[/quote]
Charity communications consultant Ian MacQuillin, who is a member of the ImpACT Coalition’s steering committee, said the comments showed that many people just are not open to persuasion about charity salaries.
“As with so many issues, when the charity sector tries to respond to criticisms, it often just talks past the objections, and that has been happening with the salaries issue. The sector has been trying to justify these salaries to people who simply believe they are unjustifiable.
“There is still some value in comparing the salaries paid to charity staff with other sectors, but that needs to be part of a very carefully nuanced position that focuses on the good that well-paid staff can bring about.”
This was something that the focus group participants touched on, but often didn’t elaborate upon. One focus group participant said:
“It’s better to have one person being paid £100,000 if they’re good at their job rather than three people on £30,000 who are rubbish.”
Avoiding fundraising issues
The focus groups deliberately avoided raising questions about fundraising for fear that this would dominate the discussion. However, some fundraising questions did rise organically from the middle-aged focus group. The chief concerns were face-to-face fundraising, and being “bombarded” with calls and emails after making a donation.
Some participants also thought that charity advertising that showed beneficiaries was “underhand”. One said:
“You know full well that the little kid [in the advert] is not starving in Africa [implying that the child was an actor or model and not a genuine beneficiary]. It’s lying and coercion to make you feel that if you didn’t give, you’d be a nasty sod.”
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