Fresh look, Platform

Two interns discuss charity pay

Pay reflects professionalism

by Ben Butcher

The recent ‘pay scandal; has been easy to sell. The Daily Mail gleefully bleated of the ‘hideous hypocrisy of the charity fat cats’, cynically claiming that ‘they bombard us with plaintive pleas for donations’ whilst their executives enjoy second-homes and glamorous holidays. The recession might not have dampened the British charitable donations, but stories of charity executives acting like bankers might.

Oxfam is far more than a charity. It is an international organisation which employs 5,000 staff, runs 700 stores and organises projects from “emergency responses” to “long-term development”. The old-fashioned expectations surrounding ‘what a charity does’ trivialises Oxfam’s work. In fact, it may well be more fitting to call it a non-for-profit business.

Charities must be held accountable, particularly when they are held together by well-intentioned donations and, in some cases, tax-payers money. Their salaries should be watched and, where appropriate, criticised if too high or not proportional with performance.

It is, however, absurd to suggest charitable organisations pay their staff six-figure salaries because they have been able to get away with it. They do it because that is what they’re worth. In fact, it could be argued, it is far less than they’re worth. Oxfam claims that a similar job outside of the charity sector would be paid £75,000 more.

Of course, for those of us at the bottom of the heap, the pay package of charity bosses may seem a slap in the face. With a salary of €150 a month, I am relying on grants and the charitable donations of my own parents to live and work for Oxfam in Brussels for ten months. I am incredibly excited, but is it justified that I will have to live with the constant fear of an empty bank account when my bosses are earning up to four times the average national income?

The truth is, it probably isn’t, but the internships, however, will still be filled. They may not be as competitive as the internships for HSBC or Deloitte or even private development organisations, but they will still be fought for by youngsters looking for a way into the aid industry. It may be unfair, but it is a reality of the job market. If you head into an underfunded industry with no experience you may well have to work for free and take what you deserve from that sacrifice: the possibility of a paid job and invaluable work experience.

Oxfam is happy to release a run-down of its spending: for every £1 spent, 84p goes directly to action projects and 9p to running costs. For the results they produce, this is an “absolute bargain”. I believe however that preparation for this backlash would have been pointless. No matter what they say, the word ‘charity’ will be associated with absolute altruism rather than the business style organisations they have become.

Pay needs to be re-assessed, bottom up

by Libby Wright

When I think of the charity sector, the first word that comes to my mind is altruism. It is an industry driven by an unselfish concern for others, not by the pursuit of remuneration. It may have come as a surprise therefore when the Telegraph amongst others released the salaries of many of the country’s top charity CEOs, bringing to light a reality which, for those outside the charity sector, has quashed this illusion that has been around for decades.

The claim ‘it’s-what-they’re-worth’ argument fundamentally fail to exonerate a philanthropic sector which prides itself on efficient and equitable distribution of resources. This is predominantly due to two reasons: it has damaged the sector’s accountability and it demonstrates a disproportionate treatment of staff within the charity sector.

In recent years, the UK’s biggest charities are and have become increasingly reliant on statutory funding (last year, Oxfam received £160 from the government compared to £130m from fundraising). As ever, we must be cautious of jumping on the right-wing opportunist band-wagon, but it certainly seems that such excessive spending on executive income is inappropriate at a time of wide-spread decline in donations and during a period of public disenchantment with foreign-aid contributions.

With such a large contribution to the charities’ revenues, whether directly or indirectly through public funding, taxpayers are entitled to know where there money is being spent. Unlike government, QUANGOS and private companies, charities receive far less scrutiny and allow less access on operational costs. I do agree that charities are not here to seek financial gains and to manipulate donors, however there is a need for greater transparency within the sector. How is it, for example, that Justin Forsyth of Save the Children has earned 22% rise in salary, despite a 3% decline in revenue?

Secondly, and from a far more personal perspective, the salaries of charity bosses comes as a blow to many of the lowly, entry-level employees of the sector. Having worked last summer with Build Africa, it is becomes blatantly clear how important, and often challenging, this ‘scut work’ is.

Whilst I was particularly lucky to have the resources to support myself, it is difficult to imagine someone from a polar opposite background being able to survive in the world of unpaid internships without making huge sacrifices. It is little surprise that earlier this year the charity sector was accused of being “too white, too male [and] too middle-class”. Surely if it wants to create a level of competition – and therefore applicant quality – for jobs akin to Deloitte or HSBC internships, they would find the funds for supporting at least basic living expenses for prospective interns?

These disproportionate salaries, therefore, can undermine, or in some cases take advantage, of a young, enthusiastic intern culture which is poorly-paid and over-worked. Hardly seems ‘fair’ and ‘efficient’, does it? This ‘scandal’, if it has earned that title, will do much to distract people’s attention from the real issues, but perhaps it will allow some time for self-reflection on the contrasting ways charities treat the top and the bottom.

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3 thoughts on “Two interns discuss charity pay

  1. Pingback: Advocacy, The EU & NGOs | Development Intern

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