Your questions for Charity CEOs answered

Guest Blogger | 16 February 2022 | Blogs

The Secret CEO Interview - including photo of empty black executive office chair, with Charity People's logo at the bottom

Nick Billingham, Managing Director at Charity People explains why they are about to launch another Secret CEO blog.

If you have worked in the charity sector as a fundraiser for more than a millisecond, you will know that charity CEOs have been a hot topic over the last few years.

A number of news organisations have run stories about charity CEO pay, such as the Daily Mail in 2019.


Pay inequity is an important issue and something we’ve focussed on in particular over the last couple of years at Charity People. We made a commitment to begin showing the salary on all job roles (including CEOs) before joining the ‘show the salary’ campaign alongside other recruiters serving the sector.

What we realised is that the debate around pay has dominated the public debate about charity leadership, but for those of us working in the sector, there are a number of other issues that warrant debate and discussion.

We noticed that there wasn’t a safe space for staff to ask senior leaders their burning questions about the way the sector is run. So we created one. A space where one CEO answers questions from across the sector. The CEO’s identity is kept secret so that they don’t need to consider the charity they work for in their answers.

In 2020 we launched the first Secret CEO blog. With the help of a few sector friends, we appealed to as many people as possible to send their questions to us via social media for an anonymous CEO to answer.

The answers were published in our blog and the feedback speaks for itself:

Answering the tricky question on pay

Lots of issues came up, including CEO pay. This is how the first Secret CEO answered that particular question:

“If you earn £100K+ are you comfortable with that, considering when people donate £5, £10, £15 they think it will make a difference to the actual services that people receive?”

Ok, I do earn more than £100K! I really wish the sector would stop beating itself up over this and tying itself into knots.

Salary should be paid according to:

● the organisation’s size
● its complexity as a business (and yes, we are a business – stop pretending otherwise)
● performance. It should also reflect the charity’s aspiration for the future, or current situation.

The sort of salary that CEOs (in general) are on isn’t that different from Head Teachers across the country and is below what the civil service pays its leaders. Unlike either group we have to raise the funds to keep the whole show on the road and that (as anyone who has employed a leading fundraiser knows) comes at a premium.


We are running a fairly significant size of business, with a multitude of demanding (and often conflicting) demands and expectations and we are growing organisations which are satisfying and delivering for their stakeholders. So we should be paid accordingly. If we aren’t doing those things, then our own performance (and jobs!) should be on the line.


If you are a CEO earning £100k+ for crying out loud stop being so defensive. If you believe you
are worth it and your organisation agrees, then you can justify it. If you aren’t performing or you
don’t think you are worth it – then do something about it.”

In Jan 2022 after securing some time and goodwill with another Secret CEO, we began the process again. We’ve just finished collecting all the questions and we’ve grouped them into themes. It was really interesting to see what is important to people in the sector right now.

Changing themes between 2020 and 2022

It’s interesting to see the apparent shift from the topics that our audiences wanted leaders to prioritise to topics that would help them to become future leaders and shape the sector in their own way.

In October 2020, the top four themes (in order) were:

In January 2022, the top four themes were:

The role of charity leaders in shaping the future of the sector is critical as we move further through the pandemic. Priorities and ways of working have shifted significantly and the pace of change has been accelerated. Leaders who prioritise the people they serve and the people who make up their organisations over maintaining the status quo are vital to the health of the sector.

Reflecting on the questions raised in 2022, the Secret CEO says, “Many questions were about the path to becoming a chief executive. I hope that means there are loads of smart, driven people who really want to be chief executives! I’m hoping we’ve got some quiet revolutionaries thinking about how to do things differently.“

Secret CEO will be published on Thursday 17th February 2022 on the Charity People Content Hub.