OK, so how much should charity bosses be paid? Plus your chance to vote

There’s a big fuss going on in the UK right now about CEO pay scales in the big NGOs. With some misgivings, I weighed in with a piece on the GuardianMartin-Rowson-07.08.13-013 website yesterday. Unfortunately, my weakness for a good one liner was spotted by the sub, who take a throwaway ‘you pay peanuts, you get monkeys’ comment and made it the headline. Wish I hadn’t used the line, but it’s too late now. If I’ve offended any actual interns or volunteers, I apologise. Anyway, here’s the piece, and your chance to vote (right):

It’s impossible for anyone working for an aid charity to comment on the current silly season skirmish on salaries without sounding defensive and/or self-serving. But the alternative – keep your head down until it goes away – leaves the field open to the aid bashers, whether of the crass Godfrey Bloom or more intelligent (and non-racist) persuasion. And bashing aid is what this is about. The critics don’t want value for money; they want less money to be spent on aid. I work for Oxfam and think aid and the work of charities is too important to let them have free rein, so although I realize I am on a hiding to nothing, here goes.

What’s the charge? That our bosses are fat cats, trousering donations that supporters and donor governments fondly think are going to relieve poverty. Cue pics of NGO execs in suits and (horror!) smiling (they clearly don’t care about the poor).

And the defence? As former Oxfam CEO Barbara Stocking pointed out on Radio 4 when the story broke, her successor (and my current boss), Mark Goldring, has a big job by any standards: multitasking between running a 700 shop retail chain, managing 5,000 employees and 20,000 volunteers, a £360m budget and ensuring the safety of staff in some of the riskiest places on earth. It doesn’t always work, as Stocking recalled – for a start, people get killed (on her watch, in Afghanistan).

The defences usually also include lots of management blah about salary reviews and benchmarking, and statements like ‘for every £1 donated to Oxfam, 84p goes directly to emergency, development and campaigning work. Just 9p is spent on running costs.” which I fear no-one reads.

The attacks touch on a pretty profound identity crisis for anyone working in aid. Is it a career or a vocation? People working for charities are not saints, but really pretty normal, mainly middle class types. They have partners, kids, many drive cars. We go on holiday (I know, shocking isn’t it?). We worry about getting old, pensions, all that stuff. There is the odd ascetic Mother Teresa type (I met some fantastic ones while working for CAFOD), but by and large we don’t live in convents/monasteries – which means mortgages.

But it’s also a vocation, something that inspires and excites and makes you feel very lucky (and I accept, maybe in some cases, irritatingly self righteous). We don’t need the Daily Mail to tell us there is a tension there – my son recently berated me for taking a salary from Oxfam (though he didn’t seem to connect this to helping get him through college). So the compromise is that our bosses need salaries, but are prepared to take less than they might otherwise.  Goldring gets paid £120k and earns it (but I would say that, wouldn’t I?). Although it’s a lot of cash, it’s way below what that level of responsibility would earn in the private sector. Barbara Stocking took a 30% salary cut to become a ‘fat cat’ NGO boss, followed by a 5 year pay freeze.

fat catBut whether career or vocation, their work has to be professional – managing these kinds of outfits takes both dedication and skill. Quite rightly, NGOs are under intense pressure to make the most of every penny, and that needs good management. And (the critics don’t talk about this) what would be the alternative to paying this level of salaries? If we ran Oxfam on a volunteer basis, or had a ceiling of say £25,000? If you pay peanuts, you’re pretty likely to get monkeys (albeit well-meaning ones). You don’t have to be a management consultant to suspect that the impact on an organization of such size, complexity and risk could be devastating.

Which would suit the aid critics just fine of course – lots of scandals to justify taking a hatchet to the aid budget (any similarity to what’s going on with the NHS is purely coincidental, I’m sure, even if many of the rock throwers are the same).

So that’s my best shot. Yes we get paid. Yes we have careers. And yes we want to change the world for the better. For an organization like Oxfam, the challenge is to find the right balance between duty (keeping salaries relatively low in the context) and effectiveness (understanding that the external market has an effect on the likely talent you are having to attract/retain from within and, more importantly, from outside the sector). Are the bashers really saying such a balance is impossible?

Over to you – vote now (in a non-binding sort of way). Option 2 is Oxfam’s model, option 4 is MSF UK‘s.

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63 Responses to “OK, so how much should charity bosses be paid? Plus your chance to vote”
  1. Thomas Tiedemann

    Good article and just unfortunate (though also predictable) that the peanut statement was made the headline. This is now attracting the typical reactions. In any case, I think it is good for us working in aid to have these discussions every now and then and talk about where that balance could be.

  2. ken smith

    I think there is still a lot of misunderstanding in the wider public about the “third sector”. People still assume charities are run by the lady of the manor or ex Brigadiers as their social duty. If you look on the average charity website , there will be not very much to dispel that image , nothing about how the charity is managed and organised. One practical thing charities could do is in their schools outreach work as well as work of the charity is talk about the NGO sector in general and hopefully the next generation can have a more informed view.

  3. As far as I’m aware, ‘people’ aren’t motivated by salaries in real figures but by what is deemed reasonable on relative terms. The trouble, then, is that the relative pay scale for executives is skewed towards crazy – with no real connection to value for money.

    In other words, it’s a collective action problem.
    ..and we all know how easy they are to solve. 🙁

  4. Hi Duncan I enjoyed the Guardian article and of course the comments section was as delightful to read as it always is.

    I have to admit I did cringe a bit at the headline so I’m glad to know that it wasn’t you that decided upon using that tired old saying. Though I did imagine there might be a few out of the 20,000 (ish) volunteers for Oxfam (who aren’t even paid in peanuts) that might feel a little aggrieved that you would associate lack of salary with the quality of work, so I’m sure the apology was appreciated.

    Still, hopefully this kerfuffle will encourage all the NGO’s to be more transparent with their finances and actually promote how much is spent where and why in a way that can be understood by anyone not involved in the NGO world. As I wrote in my blog on Monday (clifflonsdale.com) where I use Oxfam as an example of the transparency needed; I wholeheartedly agree that CEO’s and senior managers and in fact anyone working in the NGO sector should be paid a salary that is (to a certain degree) commensurable with their level of position and responsibility, based on their skills, knowledge, and experience.

  5. Sophie Romana

    Very interesting debate! I am looking at the result of the vote so far and I’m surprised to see that 70 to 80% of public/private salaries comes first. Why would NGO managers, executives, staff accept to be paid less than the private sector to accomplish a mission that is daunting (end poverty, cure malaria, stop HIV/AIDS, end violence against women…) In fact, they (we) should be paid more because most of the time our jobs consist in “righting” the wrongs produced by the private sector and governments alike.

    cheerio from Monrovia
    Sophie (who works for Oxfam US)

  6. Bernard

    There seem to be 2 justifications:

    1. These salaries are needed to attract/retain talent. The big banks say this about their CEOs too. Where is the evidence?

    2. CEOs deserve these salaries. Shouldn’t staff at all levels get what they deserve then? If this is the case then I’d like a raise please.

  7. Great article and good debate. I’ve seen the forwards from my great aunt exposing the hypocrisies of NGO heads earning ‘too much.’ And I’d say there’s a limit, but it’s also a huge responsibility. Personally I like the balance in any org – for profit or non-profit – where the highest earner only earns 3X or so that of the lowest paid.

  8. Gerry

    It seems to me that NGOs risk missing out on some reasons why people are cross about this:
    – over 100k is a LOT of money to most people: indeed 60K is a LOT of money to most people, so any discussion of “they deserve it…” does not go down well
    – some of the stats presented are genuinely worrying: there seems to have been some significant pay increase since 2008. IN that period the average person in the UK has seen their income decline by about £1500 in real terms. So the recent pay rises look pretty crass for organisations intending to combat poverty
    – also discussion of “competitive” salaries here is akin to the same mantra in banking: a select group of organisations compare themselves to each other and bid up the top salaries
    – and there is the fact that “INGOs” have been very quiet on what has been going on in the UK and have spent very little effort trying to educate the public about poverty and its causes here. It feels at times that the 0.7% of GDP figure has emasculated the INGOs

  9. Richard

    Transferable skills and motivations

    Thanks for this blog post! I agree charity workers should be paid, but…

    I would say the private sector, public sector, and charity sector are not the same job markets, especially for CEOs. Being the CEO of an International Retailer, is not the same as being the CEO of an International Development charity, is not the same as being the Senior Civil Servant of a County Council. Many of the skills may be transferable but there are two core competencies that are not.

    1) In-depth knowledge of your subject e.g. international development, inequality, and the lives of people living in poverty.
    2) Motivation and dedication to your chosen subject over many years.

    The idea that a CEO for Oxfam, or any Senior Director, can start working for Oxfam with no prior knowledge of International Development, or actually Oxfam, is wrong-headed. Surely there must be in-depth knowledge of the international development sector, as well as managerial ability.

    This in-depth knowledge is very much tied to motivation and passion for what you are doing. People who wish to work in international development often dedicate much of their working and social lives in doing so.

    Perhaps an International Development org CEO can easily start working in the Private/Public sector and get a much higher salary, but why would they do so, if they had passion and dedication for international development. Many charity workers could leave their chosen career path and get paid more, but they choose not to do so. I would want a CEO with as much passion as the other staff.

    CEOs have a lot of work to do, very long hours, huge responsibilities. But after you are paid 2 or 3 times the average national wage, does a higher salary from somewhere else actually outweigh having passion for and wanting to do the job?

    This is not an argument to say that charity workers, and specifically those working on inequality and poverty, do not need to be paid for what they do. I realise people have mortgages (if you’re lucky), children etc. CEO salary is high enough to have nothing to do with mortgages and everything to do with the market (as Oxfam often points out ‘the market’ is unfair – rigged rules and double standards).

    In summary, the problem is not the job market as a whole, but the international development job market specifically, the competition within the sector.

    Having said all this the job market for international development is still a large one. Would I work for the UN instead of Oxfam if my salary was twice as large? Probably, if I believed there was little difference in what I was doing for either organisation – which is a problem when asking for donations for your charity instead of others.

  10. Bob

    Thanks for the article – tough issue, very difficult to get right. Just one thing: that can’t be right (can it?) about the Oxfam model being that the CEO should earn no more than 3x salary of the lowest-paid… that would mean the lowest-paid employee in Oxfam GB earns £40k. Surely something wrong?

  11. Thanks for setting out the main lines. I’ve been mulling a response myself (aside from tweeting my salary: £71,500).

    Two issues stand out for me: responsibility and complexity. I take decisions resulting in our staff working in highly insecure contexts, or tens of thousands of people gaining/losing their access to healthcare. You can’t place that kind of responsibilty on a volunteer.

    Complexity. Is humanitarian aid working? Development aid solve poverty yet? I think there’s an argument we need more money to get bigger brains at the top. Put simply, if I can be a director, then you know the talent pool is thin.

  12. kieran Breen

    As someone who has worked for cuso and VSO ( international volunteering sending agencies), I think the pay peanuts comment does shine light on an inner prejudice that many of us brought up in free market economies have re pay and reward.Using that logic highly qualifies Dr’s would not volunteer for 2 years to work in Ethiopia and yet each year thousands of highly qualified volunteers do volunteer. Yes the sub editor picked up on it but you said it and perhaps it does reflect what some might see as a prejudice.

    As you say people like Mark Goldring could easily double their salary and 120K in relation to turnover and responsibility of Oxfam does not seem excessive. Yet if you look through data published some INGO bosses in smaller charities were paid more(so how was that worked out?)

    In addition anyone who has worked with Un agencies or seen the way some expat aid workes live overseas might question if expenditure is always necessary and or in keeping with ethos of poverty reduction? ( Could an INGO MP’s expenses type scandal be looming?)

    Plus judging by my FB comments many staff and increasing number of lowly or unpaid interns and vols (are they monkeys!) seem to have a big problem with some of the wages being paid at top of INGO’s, does suggest this issue has not been openly discussed and debated within these orgs.

    Answer, as an old lefty I would like to see a system where no one be they city, public sector or non profit based earned more than seven times the national average wage, this might be an incentive to raise national minimum.

    I also think all organisations should be open and transparent about salries and benefits and encourage debate amonst staff about these. IN many INGO’s salries of top managers are “confidential”

    For the record I earn 50K after 25 years in INGO world.

  13. George

    Could there be a perception amongst the public that people working for organisations dedicated to reducing the most extreme forms of poverty should not receive salaries that enable them to live a life so astronomically far removed from the people they apparently serve?

    It’s just a general wondering, but perhaps another way of looking at it would be a ratio between NGO staff salaries and average “beneficiary” income?

    Or, another speculative idea here, what if rather than benchmarking salary levels against what the private (or public) sector pays, a crowdsourcing tool was used to obtain the views of the people we apparently serve on what our level of salary should be, i.e. what value do ‘they’ put on the service we provide?

    As an staff member at an poverty-fighting NGO, I think it’s important we examine the salary levels across whole organisations and not only fixate on those at the top.

  14. Rob

    Broadening out from the issue of top executives’ pay, I think there is an argument to be made that Oxfam may not be paying enough. In many countries (though perhaps not in the UK) Oxfam seems to have a real problem retaining good staff. One former Oxfam employee I met recently told me that she felt she was doing much more satisfying work while she was at Oxfam, but she couldn’t ignore it when a UN agency offered her a far higher salary and a less-demanding workload.

  15. Mel

    We are having the wrong debates.
    Our salary reviews shouldn’t be based primarily on what other people are paying. They should be based on us determining what standard of living is reasonable and what people need to be paid in order to have that. And while I believe that people who have added responsibilities should be compensated for those, part of the problem is setting up a system with a hierarchy of work – rather than, for instance, more balanced job complexes http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balanced_job_complex

    And as someone mentioned earlier, it is also an internal issue. Defending salaries by comparing them to similar positions in other companies does nothing to address making that much money in an organization that relies on free interns. (I don’t know about you all. But I have never in my life been in a financial position that made interning at all possible.)

    But the most important issue is this.

    We are supposed to be working for a world without poverty and inequality – or at least a lot less of it. So explain to me how we do that from within organizations that are so hierarchical and so skewed towards people with massive privilege (like ivy league degrees).

    I am constantly amazed at the overly ambitious social climbers who don’t seem to realize that where there is a top there has to be a bottom. That is a conversation I would love to have.

  16. I find the response of Duncan and other defensive NGO representatives even more worrying than the unsurprising ‘fat cat’ revelations themselves, because their arguments suggest they have bought into an approach to leadership that has done so much damage throughout the public, private and voluntary sectors.

    The cult of the all-knowing, all-seeing manager has had its day, but Duncan’s reference to the number of people his CEO supposedly manages reveals an uncritical attitude to it. The idea that any one person can manage 25,000 others is obviously absurd, but many organizations are undermined by an attempt to make it work, because the corollary is command and control. (As in other respects, Duncan’s reference to the NHS is apposite here.)

    Of course, there are different roles and levels of responsibility, which can indeed justify some disparity in salary. But the actual pay differences in many organizations – and again the NHS, its problems and their causes underline the point — have more to do with maintaining hierarchies than with matching reward to contribution.

    What we need are leaders who start from an assumption that everyone in their organizations can lead in one way or another, and enable that to happen as much as possible. That kind of management is about creating relationships and a culture in which staff have the freedom they need to take responsibility in a supportive and transparent environment, and in which collective and individual learning and improvement are systematic.

    Perhaps that is how Oxfam is managed, I don’t know – certainly the license given to Duncan suggests it might be! — but if so it will look increasingly anomalous to pay the CEO so much more than the lowest paid – particularly as the lowest paid are volunteers and so-called interns who receive nothing at all!

  17. ken smith

    Following on Rob’s comment , good luck trying to sell that Oxfam needs to increase salaries in developing countries because other higher paid jobs are available there. Donors might wonder what Oxfam is doing working in those countries in the first place.

  18. Rob

    Ken: I’m talking about some of the poorest countries, where there is clearest need for our work: Haiti and Yemen are two examples that spring to mind. These are the places where there is are a large number of international NGOs competing intensely for specialist local staff, and big UN operations that pay far more than Oxfam can afford.

  19. kieran

    Do INGO´s need to agree an open and transparent way of determining staff salaries and all agree to work within that framework?

    Would greater transparency and sharing of info on remuneration practices to supporters, donors etc lead to more “equitable” agreemnts?

  20. ken smith

    Hi Rob , Still think that’s going to be a hard sell to donors that we need to pay large salaries in some of the poorest countries in the world to compete with other NGO’s. Why don’t we cooperate instead ? Why not handover the Oxfam budget (minus large salaries) to these many other NGO’s working there whose staff we so value or better yet local NGO’s.

  21. Devin

    This seems quite silly from a US perspective. I don’t know of a large charity who pays their CEO less than $250k, and I know many who pay closer to $400k. When the equivalent private sector pay is in the Millions, I don’t see why all the fuss over paying 0.1% of revenue for an effective leader.

  22. Liked this comment- “The idea that a CEO for Oxfam, or any Senior Director, can start working for Oxfam with no prior knowledge of International Development, or actually Oxfam, is wrong-headed. Surely there must be in-depth knowledge of the international development sector, as well as managerial ability.” Have been in NGO, INGO and local government sector since 1989 (and a few internships before and in between)and my top wage was 10,000 pounds annually. Obviously this is adequate for a doctor with a family in India. But are my colleagues in UN agencies in the 3rd world (or in Oxfam) less capable of running an NGO at international level? Some have done it- as successfully or not as other first world managers. There is a pool of such talent in the field. Most are un-noticed. All will not go on to hold the CEO post- but to keep them motivated the the narrow pinnacle of the salary pyramid needs to be lopped off. You could have a large number of equally talented people at a number of equally important positions (Country Head, Region Head, Department Head, Local NGO Head- not just a “king with dukes and fiefs”). And the interns and new staff would all have a reasonable chance of reaching the plateau of governance in a lifetime.

  23. Wim

    There’s a number of interesting arguments in this piece (although the suggestion that bosses should get hazard pay because their staff is working in risky environments might be stretching the argument way too far) but still I feel it is missing the point. The issue at hand is not about complexity nor responsibility but about the standard of living that is appropriate for an NGO worker/CEO. How do you live when you earn more than 100k? Can you still relate to the lives the poor are living? To the everyday concerns of the general public your NGO is trying to educate? Do you still care about legroom in economy when you always fly business class?

    I’m working with an NGO that’s paying me peanuts. Nevermind if some people are convinced I’m a monkey. I think they have made other choices and are pursuing other objectives in their lives.

  24. cathy shutt

    Great discussion; the number of comments illustrates how much this matters and it is nice to see so many going for the anti-pyramid ‘equity’ vote. Inequality in compensation levels in aid recipient countries has an enormous influence on relationships as well as aid performance and impact http://www.esrc.ac.uk/my-esrc/grants/RES-167-25-0169/read. (I had an article published in TWQ last year which argued that many expat aid workers spend huge amounts of time trying to reconcile the contradiction between the fact they would like to belong to a moral economy where pay is set according to need and equity but are in fact paid salaries determined by a market that they often deem unfair. The cynical expat blog sites provide plenty of evidence.)

    When I worked for a Southern based NGO in the Philippines where there were huge discrepancies between expat and local staff, it was a key topic of conversation. Local staff felt very undervalued. On occasion this inequity was used as justification for financial practices that those who believe in and benefit from the rational inequitable market commonly label as ‘corrupt’. The link between inequity in the system and ‘corrupt practice’ is covered well in the Psychology of Aid literature, e.g. http://zedbooks.co.uk/node/12326.

    Related, some of the comments above reminded me of a conversation I overheard in Cambodia in 2006. Two expatriate women were moaning about local NGO corruption. A relatively empowered Cambodian on the table piped up with comment along the lines of ‘You wonder why local NGOs are corrupt?’ You earn $X00 dollars a month which is more than you need. I earn $Y00 and it is not enough to support me and my extended family.’ Can we really justify CEO figures of 160k plus for people living in a context with free education and health care and then construct a local NGO staff member who has to look after the health care of large extended families taking a 5$ commission on procurement as ‘corrupt’?

    Whilst I think there is much merit in some of Dan Pallotta’s argument – particularly re understandings of admin costs, isn’t it a tad power blind? The fact that there have been significant increases in INGO CEO salaries during a period of austerity in the UK when more families are relying on food aid simply seems unfair. And shouldn’t we be bothered that according to Wiki the CEOs of Save and the Red Cross are part of an elite 1% of the taxpaying UK population who earn over £156,000?

  25. Richie Rich

    Sounds great. You have really convinced me about the necessity to pay your charity bosses well. Now why don’t you do one thing and just one thing?

    Make all of your salary descriptions transparent to people you purport to serve.

    The argument that obscene salaries are required to keep the ‘talent’ used to be endemic to Wall Street sharks, and how lovely it is to see the same permeate the charitable-industry complex.

    If you believe in God and your God happens to be just, you will have a really bad time at death.

  26. ken smith

    We should be moving away from this ex-pat v local salaries. Surely if say Oxfam has a job vacancy in Cambodia that is advertised world-wide via the internet , and anyone with the right skills is free to apply whether Cambodian national or ex-pat. So the salary is set before you even know whether the eventually job holder will be a national or ex-pat.

  27. Michael Bailey

    Coming late into this, but making a slightly different point, I hope.

    First, the disclaimer: I work for Oxfam GB but this is a personal view.

    Let’s talk figures first. I believe £180k is too much for a UK aid charity CEO. As is £160k, and £120k. Which is why I feel sorry for Action Aid, Christian Aid and CAFOD, who all apparently pay their CEOs under £100k, yet got tarred, in the eyes of many, with the same brush.

    And it would be too much for a domestic charity too, some of whom probably pay more than the overseas aid agencies.

    If we say that charities can only get the necessary CEO talent by paying these large amounts, aren’t we endorsing a fundamentally negative view of human nature, and reinforcing the classic defence of elite priviledge and pay?

    Surely we defend, and celebrate, the fact that people can do things for others, without self-interest being the primary driver. I am sure we all see amazing people doing amazing things, sometimes at personal risk, at home and abroad, and we rarely presume that they must be well paid for it.

    Yes, it’s arbitrary to say that £180k is wrong and £90k is OK, but I can live with that. I reckon that is what many of the UK public would go along with, and, leaving aside moral questions, that matters a whole lot too.

  28. Nadav

    There are a lot of issues here. One of the main problems I have with the article is its existence – the fact that we feel it’s necessary to justify NGO salaries to the wider public when bankers’ salaries are only just beginning to be scrutinized, and noone’s paying attention to any other executive salaries in the private sector. I understand that people feel they are donating their hard-earned, expendable income to charities because they want it to help the poor and not the CEOs…but the private sector provides services that people need (the food they eat, the utilities they rely on etc), and charge more and more to increase their profits, a chunk of which goes into the very big salaries of their executives. As consumers, the public have no say in this and are forced to pay increasing prices, and it seems a bit perverse that people are complaining about relatively small NGO wages and not this.

    And it concerns me that many of the people complaining the loudest are those who don’t think any money should be spent on aid anyway (Godfrey Bloom et al). NGOs shouldn’t have to justify themselves to these people, and in fact they shouldn’t, because that legitimizes it as a ‘debate’.

    BUT I think it should be debated WITHIN the NGO sector. If you look at the comments on the Guardian site, there seem to be a lot of people who want to donate to NGOs but are concerned about the salaries. Some of it is misunderstanding – a lot of people still think they give money to a charity, and that money is then given to a poor person in Africa. They don’t understand how aid and NGOs actually work, and we try and explain it but, well, it’s quite boring. They also might not realize how small the CEO’s salary is as a percentage of the NGO’s turnover.

    But I can still understand their concern. Noone needs a 120k salary and that’s a fact.

    As a few people above have commented, it seems very worrying that NGOs are buying into the mentality of market rates. It’s not just at the top level – I worked at Oxfam for a while and was quite surprised that there’s a ‘market supplement’ too (probably very rarely used but it’s there). There’s a clear contradiction between the values NGO employees are supposed to have and the salaries that they apparently demand if they’re going to take the job. Then again, if you’re offered a salary that’s higher than you think you need, are you going to turn it down? There needs to be some real honesty in this debate. I don’t think anyone’s arguing against higher pay for more responsibility or experience, but the perspectives of this should come from the values of the NGOs, not the values of ‘the market’.

    Pay for international staff and expats is a whole other can of worms. It’s very complicated but it really needs an honest debate as well (and not just blaming the UN for screwing up the market).

  29. Gareth Price-Jones

    I’m another Oxfammer who’s commented on this issue here before, but I wanted to note the issue of expat salaries vs local salaries.

    For me, the challenge for organisations like ours is that to deliver good aid we need to attract people who have a relatively rare skill set and (because of that) a choice of working anywhere in the world. It helps if you offer them a salary that enables them to have a similar lifestyle as they might have anywhere in the world – indeed, often it needs to be significantly better in some respects in order to compensate for the risks and uncertainties of life in a less predictable environment. Even with this, we still really struggle to find people, expat or local, with the skills and experience needed. All Oxfam’s posts are openly advertised, and available to locals as well as expats, but there is no great pool of qualified candidates offering up their CVs.

    I’ve recently left a job I loved because living in Dhaka made my little boy ill – most of the millions of people living in Dhaka with ill children didn’t have the choice, but I did, and I’m not sure many people blame me for making it. I’d love everyone in Dhaka to be able to breathe clean air, but I’m not going to feel too bad about moving my family while that happens – it will take a while. For similar reasons, I’ve never felt bad about getting an expat salary (just shy of £40k + housing in my case).

    On a side note, although salaries help, I did work as a volunteer with Oxfam for a year after graduating, and although Oxfam did well out of me, I always felt I was on the winning side of that contract. And keeping posts volunteer often eliminates all but those who are wealthy enough to work full time for free – hardly a recipe for diversity.

  30. ken smith

    Just like to ask Gareth why he thinks this blend of skills and experience in candidates is so rare? Universities all over the world are still turning out masses of bright , idealistic folk ( so idealistic they will intern for free ). Yet higher up the chain there is this shortage ?
    Should Oxfam consider more fast-track schemes , do more with mentoring ? What will it take to increase supply of suitable candidates ?

  31. Rachel

    Absolutely agree with Michael B – how can someone be a credible representative of people living in poverty and expect to be listened to as such whilst earning a salary so much higher than that needed to have a decent lifestyle in the UK?

    I’ve heard several CEOs of aid organisations talk of their absolute commitment to their organisations and the values that drive them and never once did they mention material gain as a motivating factor in applying for the job… so my question to them is – will all your commitment, energy and enthusiast to fight poverty suddenly disappear if you were earning less than £100k?

  32. Libby Bounds

    “People working for charities are… pretty normal, mainly middle class types” I’d dispute this. As a working class Oxfam employee I’ve been shocked by just how many upper middle class people (for this read ‘frighteningly posh’) I’ve met in this sector. This is not to dispute their commitment, compassion or skills at all, but I’d never encountered such a strong class bias in my pre-NGO career. I’ve often wondered why it exists – after all if you grow up on free school meals you are more likley to understand something about what it means to live in poverty than if you’ve never so much as blanched at the sight of your gas bill. My view is that it’s the unpaid internships that make a career in the sector unattainable to people who can be more accurately described as ‘normal’. Sorry to move the discussion away from exec pay, but the unfortunate peanuts/monkeys idea starts with the scandal of unpaid internships.

  33. David Chapman

    A few points.

    “Goldring gets paid £120k and earns it”. How on earth do you judge that someone ‘earns’ £120 K?

    According to a report in the Guardian http://society.guardian.co.uk/salarysurvey/table/0,12406,1042677,00.html Barabara Stocking was paid £75 K in 2003. There’s not been much inflation in the last 10 years, so are you saying Goldring earns £25 K more than Stocking – is he that much better than her? Or maybe it is just that men are entitled to more than women (sorry, couldn’t resist that!)

    To me, £75 K seems a pretty good salary (it’s over £20 K more than I get), so my question to Mark Goldring is: would you refuse to do the job if you were only paid £75 K?”

  34. Susan

    I am thoroughly disappointed to see the number of people trying to justify the big salaries that are clearly indefensible; we ask people some with a degree, and in debt themselves,to volunteer for months for no salary as interns etc.And in the face of abject poverty. A friend f mine went to volunteer for a year in Ethipia and came back very concerned about the behaviour of people working in charities in Addis- flying back and forth for their holidays, driving about in huge 4x4s and claiming considerable expenses on top of their salary. come on ,let’s get real. I will not be giving my time or money in future to these charities, it’s a disgrace.

  35. CG

    Controversially, I think you can pay good money and still get monkeys.

    In the end there has been a culture of ever-increasing CEO salaries that don’t really reflect the reality of their companies performance. All charities are doing is competing with that culture of greed.

  36. shirley greaves

    I think it absolutely disgraceful that these charities are paying six figure sums to their executives. How can they possibly justify it. They expect people like myself (a pensioner) to volunteer for nothing while they pay themselves huge salaries plus cars and expenses. In future my donations will go to my own local charities direct.I know of one guy who runs around in a Porche and owns a magnificent house who
    runs a charity.It is called greed, just like the bankers.

    • Alan jones

      I agree! These greedy people should be ashamed to be taking these obscene salarys? They are taking the food And clothing from the desperate poor people it was meant for! I am disgusted and will never give to any of them again!

  37. Jake Steyn

    I work for Mencap. I’m a student and get paid £6.97 an hour; I work 20 hours a week but I am ALWAYS made to work longer as someone is always ill. Despite telling the manager countless times that I am a student and that academia must come first, she does not listen. From what we can all see, she does nothing, is ineffective, spends all day in the car and can’t even use a computer. She’s getting paid over four times as much as I am and she’s only a line manager… So YES. Managers get paid far too much, Support Workers deserve a huge pay rise for what they have to do every day. It’s a disgrace and something needs to be done about it. This government is a shambles, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

  38. Jane

    This whole debacle has stopped me making a donation to a large charity. Most of the CEOs have had succesful careers in other sectors and earnt high salaries. Like those highly skilled professionals that actually go out to dangerous parts of the world, unpaid, these CEOs should be giving back to society. They shouldn’t be paid peanuts, but not more than the Prime minister. After all those doctors, nurses and other professionals who head out to deliver aid do it for less than peanuts and they are certainly not monkeys.

  39. Not sure about this but I believe that most donations to charities come from middle to lower middle income people, and its hard for us to justify sacrificing to donate when we find that CEO’s are making so much more than we are when its people like us that carry them. So I say find out what the average salary of the donor to decide what to pay CEO’s. I don’t feel they should get more than that…

  40. iain smith

    Being unemployed and before being made redundant some years ago i was on pretty much minimum wage and probably one of the monkeys you were joking about. A view that money buys expertise,it pervades society since maggies era. it is not always so some people like to do a good job just for the pride of it.The boss gets 120k the chuggers get £9 an hour and all the other layers of management in between get there various amounts.whilst it cost 9 pence in the £ admin much of that is due to income.Income drops staff costs rise so it is a bit of a movable feast.
    As one chugger said after i told them i was unemployed Thats alright we have found out that most of our funds come from the low paid and unemployed they were collecting for Greenpeace but walking through the centre of Birmingham is like navigating your way through a sea of amiable muggers for there various charities with there little wireless pads for taking your details ,as slick as any high pressure salesman around.We have got the charity industry wrong we think the emphasise is on charity not industry.

  41. Oxfam Shop Manager

    You should pay peanuts. I know it and so do all of the customers who come into my shop to complain about the prices and maldistribution of oxfam’s revenue.
    If you get monkeys it’s because your selection process is crap. Paying anyone £120000 is completely unecessary and considering the typical national salary, it’s morally redundant.

  42. Will

    I find it deeply depressing that if you are talented but believe in in working for an ideal rather than money you get labeled a ‘monkey’.

  43. John Smith

    Zero or below, is the right amount for all positions.

    Really all should pay the charity to work there, the CEO, Chairman and Board paying the most, it’s tax deductible afterall and it’s a CHARITY.

    And, no longer paying peanuts (ATOW 1Kg of Peanuts about £2.50), you won’t get monkeys, problem solved.

    In the event that peanuts drop to zero or below, might I suggest you give more, so you are ahead of the peanut rate.

  44. I just found this table detailing how much various charity jobs pay. £70k for a good CEO doesn’t seem like too much to me, as long as they do what’s expected and help their organisations do as much as possible to make the world a better place!

  45. hiohaa

    “Although it’s a lot of cash, it’s way below what that level of responsibility would earn in the private sector. Barbara Stocking took a 30% salary cut to become a ‘fat cat’ NGO boss, followed by a 5 year pay freeze.”

    any comparisons to private sector pay are totally irrelevant, and should be discarded from the discussion. Why? Becuase we Know that private sector play is absurdly inflated, one of the main drivers for inequality (the CEO to median worker ratio), which results in the need for charity in the first place.

    the issue is – are they delivering £100+k of VALUE to the charity. I would argue, No – for the exact same reasons that CEO’s in the private sector do not deserve their huge salaries and bonuses. They might dictate strategy which leads to a better service, but ultimately that service is then carried about by the monkeys you refer to, who are then expected to add value on top – value which simply rolls back to the top of the chain. It is a fundamental of a capitalist structure.
    I would argue that the people on the front lines, in afghanistan or some other war torn country, are working TWICE as hard as the fat cat CEO sitting in his comfortable office on the other side of the world. The level of pay should be decided by how onerous the conditions are for the work, and the level of cost it has taken to develop the skilled worker to deliver his/her output. Using that as an indicator of how much someone should be paid would mean the CEO would get frankly very little.
    Is the CEO being 20x more productive than the average employee, justifying 20x the salary? Almost certainly No, and there are plenty of studies proving that.

  46. R. Davies

    I heard from a recently returned friend that apparently with MSF now, expatriates are paid according to their home country rates. So for the same position, say entry level MD, somebody coming from UK would be paid 3-4x times higher that somebody coming from India – with the same qualifications and competencies. Weird right? For an organization putting equality above and neutrality above all else – they are actually practicing discrimination with their staff! I just cancelled my automatic donation because of that…

  47. Ian

    It’s about attitude and sense of entitlement. “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

  48. Hugo


    You showed the truth in your initial statement
    ‘you pay peanuts, you get monkeys’
    Anything after that is meaningless and irrelevant. Basically you are stating that CEOs are pay more because they are the valuable assets in the company. The doctors, volunteers and all those who contribute with titanic efforts are very replaceable and can be spared from having the same salary. An NGO should be based on equality, and that starts by the salary.

    Your vision is corrupt and disgusting. You are just implying that because you control the money you deserve more, you are better, others must earn less because they are JUST actually saving people, not managing pounds.

    Last month I took the harsh decision of not contributing more to NGOs until there is a change within these organizations so they stop being the same model that creates poverty along the planet. The change for this society must start at the charities, and lead by example. CEO must earn no more than a doctor or builder that works within the company. Because the implicit meaning is that a Third World country is the worker and First World countries are the CEOs, and we deserve more, we are better, and the rest get what we allow them.

    You would never say that a doctor that is getting 50k would imply that he is not going to be able to do it right because is too little. A CEO could do their job well for 50k if they would have the will for the job. And if they dont, younger and talented people are waiting their opportunity to show that saying that CEOs need to be paid highly is just a terrible lie that comes from the banking sector and a sign of old aristocracy and classcism.

    Hope things change.

  49. danny cleese

    Surely the point is you are a charity, thousands of good hard working people give their time, and money to make life better for Oxfam causes. These good ordinary people help and support hundred upon hundred charities, which cover every charitable endeavour conceivable. When it is shown that top charity bosses pay themselves well in excess of £100, 000 per year, much more than ordinary charity giving people earn in many years, then people get annoyed. Why can’t charities be run by retired ceo’s who want to give something back, and who would work for a small salary.

    Who gives more; the multimillionaire who gives a hundred thousand pounds or the poor widow who gives twenty pounds from her meagre income – I know who I think, do you.


    • danny cleese

      What has gone wrong in this world, GREEED! I hear you say; yep! that’s it. Bankers, Footballers, and others sports, then CEO’s they all want and expect a fortune. There is though a more morally repulsive breed of fortune hunter; the charity CEO. They turn charity into big business and then demand a large “fat cat” pay packet. Honest hard working people give their hard earned money to charity so that it will go to the charitable cause and not some overpaid head pen pusher, along with their management team. Lets face it, some charities are set up to be more a business and a lot less a charity. Come on, put the charity back into charities

  50. Joe Soap

    When you’re running a business staffed mainly by unfaid workers, the business is exempt from tax, and your high street stores qualify for relief on business rates which your direct competitors do not enjoy, it’s pretty difficult ‘not’ to return a substantial profit.

  51. Cobran

    I got a letter today from the Chief Exec of Oxfam asking for £5 a month. Well I’m sorry, but my £5 a month, if I choose to give it to charity will go to charity where every penny goes to the cause, not to help finance big business types who run these big organisations. If you can’t find people to run Oxfam and big charities who are prepared to do it for a realistic salary then they have no moral standing to ask anyone for ” £5 a month”.

  52. Ida Ripley

    I am sick at heart when I read about the money taken off the top for executives working for charities. As a teacher, I gave generously of my time and effort and creativity for 35 years.
    I did it because my heart was in it; the remuneration was reasonable, not excessive.

    I’ve been giving more than 10% of my income conscientiously to charities all these years. I’ve got to make revision now in the light of what I’ve learned. It’s hard, but I must do the right thing. Charitable giving has become an industry, big-time.

  53. John C Vetterlein

    There are some 166,000 registered charities in the UK all seeking contributions from the public irrespective of means. Block mailings land on the doormats (if you have one!) of improvised and stinking rich alike.

    Hardly reasonable, I would have thought, to expect a pensioner struggling to make ends meet to be expected to bolster a highly salaried charity worker- some chief execs getting well over £150,000 per annum.

    The reward for assisting the disadvantaged of this world should come from that very act. Ever hear the phrase “as cold as charity”?

  54. Dave Evans

    I think some people writing articles on this subject are missing the point, these charities already exist a new CEO just takes over at a high wage in some cases higher than our Prime Minister earns. Also why do there offices have to be in expensive areas I checked on one charity recently and their head office was at Canary wharf. What a waste of donator money. I support several charities like the air ambulance and local charities for this area none of which pay their top people high wages. I suggest other people follow suit especially considering recent scandals in major charities.