Should charities pay their trustees?
In his recent Charities Act review report, Lord Hodgson recommended that charity trustees are paid. Paul Marvell looks at the pros and cons of this recommendation and makes the case for having more fundraisers on boards of trustees.
One of Lord Hodgson's recent recommendations is that trustees in voluntary organisations with a turnover of more than £1m should be allowed to pay their trustee board without seeking permission from the Charity Commission.
On a long and stop-start journey to Bristol I started musing over the pros and cons of doing this and what it might achieve. It has to be said that I could not think of too many pros, so this blog may not appear perfectly balanced, but isn't that the purpose of blogs?
I do speak with some experience having worked closely with boards for many years now, but also having been a trustee at a small international NGO called ChildHope for the past two years.
So what are the possible positives about paying your trustees? Well, some might argue that it would make it easier to attract skills that are otherwise harder to recruit volunteers into. Any help identifying these gaps welcome!
Secondly it could perhaps encourage greater professionalism on the part of trustees. Perhaps if they were being paid they would feel a greater sense of obligation?
Thirdly it could possibly make performance management of trustees more straightforward, perhaps by making them more accountable.
Finally it could help attract those who simply cannot afford to volunteer, e.g. unemployed people (but wouldn't pay affect their benefits?).
I think these are fairly weak arguments are more than outweighed by the case against. I would argue that volunteering at all levels is at the very heart of the ethos of our sector. Why should trustees be treated differently to any other volunteers? How could charities afford to pay volunteers in any case, beyond the normal payment of expenses, which many volunteers don't bother to claim anyway?
I would also argue that trustees are not motivated by pay. There are a variety of well documented motivations for volunteering: wanting to do something for a good cause; wanting to put something back; a passion for the cause for many reasons including maybe a deeply personal connection; maybe they were a founder of the charity; for career development reasons, networking, and many other reasons. I doubt if payment has ever entered their heads.
Then there are issues with public accountability and credibility. It is hard enough to explain to many people why charities should even pay their staff, let alone extend payment to volunteers! Shouldn't charities be looking to generate income rather than spend it?
I would also make the point that boards are there to ensure good governance of the organisation, to provide and demonstrate leadership, to support and advise the staff team, to give strategic direction. In my opinion they are also there to ‘give and to get’ - by that I mean that rather than taking a pay packet from the cause they should be supporting it financially, preferably by giving their own money within their means, and/ or at the very least fundraising for the charity, or enabling fundraising through others.
In any case do charities really need to pay to attract quality trustees? Absolutely not! There is a wealth of talent out there, and I would suggest that if charities are not able to attract this talent they are looking in the wrong places.
I have been advocating trusteeship to IoF members for the past three years. If we can get fundraising talent on boards it solves two problems - firstly lack of understanding of fundraising on many boards and secondly support amongst the board for the staff team doing the fundraising. Also it is a great way for fundraisers to develop their own skills, experience and knowledge of governance which can only be good for them, their career and the sector.
So please Lord Hodgson, reconsider this suggestion. What works in the commercial sector can often be applied to the not-for-profit sector, but not in this instance.
Paul Marvell is Director of Professional Development and Membership at the Institute of Fundraising. He is responsible for driving forward the professionalism and effectiveness of fundraising through the Institute’s range of learning opportunities, including qualifications, courses, online learning, CPD and conferences. More about Paul.