Sunday, February 23, 2014

My two or three cents

Silence is golden.

Say nothing.

Keep your mouth shut.

Stay safe.

Don't raise your head above the parapet for fear of getting shot.

These are the thoughts that are going through my head and have been going through my head for the last few weeks. The charity sector has been under attack from all sides and with some justification, although not all the attacks are justified.

Through all this I've said nothing.

Now maybe I don't have a right to say anything and maybe nobody cares what I have to say.

But I'm not going to be silent.

Firstly, why have I not said anything?

I don't know.

Do I have an opinion? Yes.

Have I discussed at length the scandals within the charity sector with colleagues? Yes.

Why not talk about them?

Well, maybe I'm afraid.

Maybe what I have to say isn't what everybody else thinks and I'll look stupid, or maybe what I have to say is exactly what everybody else is saying and what's the point saying something if you're not adding something new.

Anyway here's my two or three cents.

Is it wrong for the board of a charity to secretly use donated funds to top up salaries and to try and hide it?

Of course it is!

Now if the board thinks that paying these large top ups saves the organisation from future lawsuits over breach of contracts from the employees in question there may and I say MAY be some justification for it but if that's what they believe then they should just come out and say it!

Hiding this from your organisation, your staff and your donors is wrong. If there's a problem come out and say it, tell us what the best solution is and then do it. Just don't lie about it. It's stupid. It's wrong and really just causes a huge mess.

Now what about large CEO salaries paid out of public money.

Well first off isn't everybody's salary paid out of public money? Or at least doesn't it come from somebody else's pocket?

I have a big issue with the hypocrisy of government ministers who are quite happy to pay millions to government contractors to provide services and they accept that these contractors may pay their CEO's multiple millions of Euro.
However, they then turn around and say that other organisations that they pay to provide services to the public can only pay their staff according to their criteria.
What they are saying is that the contracting of external IT or accounting expertise is much more valuable than the contracting of external child protection services or counselling. That's just rubbish.


Do I think that the CEO of a charity should get paid €250,000 a year or so?

Hell, I don't know!

What does that CEO do? How expert are they? How many staff do they employ? Are they amazing at their job and doing a much better job than the person you could hire for €200,000?

Does the public have the right to know how much the CEO of a charity gets paid?

Well of course they do.

But why do they care?

Recently I gave a talk and spoke about doing the impossible.

Nobody ever set up a charity to do something that was easy.

A simple problem that a few quid or a bit of hard work could solve.


Charities are set up with the biggest of goals, to do the almost impossible.

To eradicate hunger.

To end suffering.

To cure disease.

To ensure everybody has a home.

To make every child safe.

These challenges are almost impossible and the reason that governments rely on charities to solve them is because the problems are too hard, they can't sell them in an election manifesto and they might not be successful.

But charities,

wonderful charities,

inspirational charities,

don't care about the risks,

don't care about how hard these problems are to solve,

and don't ask whether they can do the almost impossible.

All they think about is that this is a problem, it needs to be fixed, nobody else is going to do it so we HAVE to.

Charities exist not out of ego or a desire to be popular but out of a Need to right the wrongs and fix  the impossible.

So let's get back to salaries.

How much would you pay to end hunger?

To eradicate suffering?

Cure a disease?

And to make every child safe?

I would suggest that solving these problems would be priceless. So I guess the point is why do people care how much the CEO of a charity gets paid when they could just ask how much closer is he or she bringing the organisation to achieving the impossible?

On a side note, the government has put a price on all these things and figures that €45million is about enough to make sure that nobody is homeless in the country. That nobody is sleeping out tonight on our streets and going hungry.

Is that enough?

Maybe, I'm not an economist.

And another weird one,

How come a charity CEO is vilified for getting paid €250,000 a year for running an organisation that helps thousands of people and Wayne Rooney is celebrated for getting paid €300,000 a week for being a bit part of an organisation that markets overpriced merchandise to kids and puts parents under pressure to pay €50 for a replica kit? And why don't you ever hear people asking what percentage of the jersey price is going to Rooney's salary, the catering in the board's box and servicing the owners debts?

But like I say, is €250,000 to run a charity too much? I just don't know.

And now back to me.

I'm a professional fundraiser.

The scandals and the media coverage over the last few weeks has led people to say that people like me shouldn't get paid for the work we do. That it's a disgrace that I should get paid to work for a charity and that I should be ashamed of what I do.

But I am a professional fundraiser and incredibly proud of my profession.

The job of a fundraiser is not to 'extract money from the public' as one person put it but to connect charities that are trying to do the impossible with people who want to help them succeed.

It's that simple.

Fundraisers help put two groups of passionate people together.

Those that want to do the impossible but need money to to it and those that believe with all their heart that the impossible is worth trying to achieve and that if they can give some money to help they are willing to give what they can.

It's not a scam.

It's not a secret.

Does it involve expertise? Yes.

Skill? Yes.

Techniques that not everybody likes? Yes - because everybody is different.

Hard work? Yes.

and hard working, talented staff? Yes.

But look what charities have achieved because of the money that professional fundraisers have helped raise!

Every year hundreds of homeless people in Ireland are helped to get off the streets and put their lives back together.

Millions of people in Africa are given vaccinations against malaria and other terrible diseases.

The life expectancy of people with AIDS, cancer and heart disease is increased and cures get closer.

Awareness of thousands of environmental issues is increased.

And the lives of people at risk of torture and death are saved.

Fundraisers help these things to happen, not by scamming the public but by helping people to help the causes they care about.

And finally...

Where does Charity Hack fit in with all this?

Well it's really simple.

Charity Hack is proof, if any was needed, that the charity sector isn't broken. It isn't corrupt and it's not full of selfish, thoughtless people.

Can you imagine the journalists of the Irish Independent taking a day out on the weekend to help the Irish Times to get better?

Or how about Vodafone staff volunteering to help Meteor sell more phones?

It would never happen.

But Charity Hack helps this exact thing happen within the Charity sector.

Professional charity workers give up their Saturday to give all their talent and expertise to another charity, free of charge.

In another sector you could get fired for helping 'the competition' but in the charity sector we understand that all these causes are valuable and that donors will support the cause they care about most. We're not in competition. We're all just trying to work on our charities version of the impossible task.

Since Charity Hack started my faith in the charity sector has grown and grown.

Our sector is full of amazingly talented specialists, hard working professionals and passionate experts.

Charity Hack is only a tiny player in the sector, playing a tiny part, helping us help each other.

Recently I was asked by a journalist what I thought the effect of all the recent scandals would be on the sector in a years time.

My answer is this. We will get stronger. Our sector isn't weak. It's not broken.

Sure, we need a regulator to standardise financial reporting, to promote best practise and to strengthen the public's faith in charities but the spotlight that these stories have turned on our sector will have, I believe, a very positive effect.

Now, more than ever, the public is interested in charities. Interested in how we do our work, how fundraising is structured and are at least beginning to learn what is and isn't good practise. That can only be a positive. Also the public is gaining a greater knowledge and understanding of the people behind charities, how they work and what they need to do to achieve the impossible.

I'm sure that as a result of this spotlight more members of the public will decide that they want to help the impossible become a reality by supporting a charity dear to their heart.


Our third Charity Hack takes place on the 10th April. Registration for charities is open until the 28th February. You can register here

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