Should charities pay their trustees?

A story on the Third Sector caught my eye this evening. It raises an interesting question – should charity trustees be paid for their work?

The Charity Commission has paved the way for wider payment of trustees by allowing one of Britain’s wealthiest charities to pay five of its 12 board members.

The current situation is well described by the article:

Charity law forbids trustees from receiving benefits without express authority from a clause in the governing document, from a court or from a Charity Commission ruling.

It’s perhaps a bit of a leap to assume that this latest case sets the sort of precedent that the article seems to see, but the principle is an interesting one.

Instinctively, I find it hard to accept the idea of people earning money for running a charitable organisation. For me, the voluntary nature of charity trusteeship feels like an essential part of the role – a key characteristic which sets it apart from roles in the corporate world.

I realise that my instincts tend to be overly idealistic and “hippy-like”. I know that charities are getting larger, more professional and increasingly more business-like in their operations. Some charities are very large and complex organisations, such as the one in this particular case which has a reported annual income of more than £143m. Objectively, I can appreciate an argument that such an organisation would need to pay in order to be able to get the best person to govern it.

But it still feels wrong to me. Covering expenses is one thing. Ensuring that noone is prevented from being a trustee because of a financial barrier is one thing. But paying what is essentially an executive salary is another. To revisit an earlier post, when is a charity still a charity? When does an organisation that is that large, that complicated, and led by a board of paid directors, stop being a charity and start becoming a business?

It feels to me that the principle is that being a charity trustee is a public service, and charities shouldn’t need to pay for good leaders. But, I realise that practically we are talking about only very large charities, the running of which I have no real experience or knowledge of. If they are serving a public interest, and this is the best way for them to do the most good with the money that they have, then I guess that the problem is that in the real world we do need to pay to get the best people.

One Response to “Should charities pay their trustees?”

  1. […] I mentioned a couple of days ago how charities are increasingly becoming more business-like, or at least are keen to give the impression of this to support an image of professionalism. So, I thought it was worth pointing out that we’re no different! […]