Does it matter what the CEO of a charity is paid?

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How much does the CEO at your favourite charity make? This year, for the first time, we included that information in our table. As you scan through the list, you’ll notice that many executives in the charitable sector make quite a lot. Salaries in the $250,000 to $300,000 a year range are common. The average top paycheque is $210,000.

We debated including this information because we know that some donors will find the salaries too high. When we showed the amounts to Carl Harvey, a retired accountant in Peterborough, Ont., who gives to more than 20 charities a year, he found the sums appalling. “Some guy in a corner office with a suit that I can’t afford is making hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he says. “The only defence they have is ‘Well, we need to pay to get quality people.’ Come on, people would work for a lot less than that.”

Still, keep in mind that many of the charities on our list are large, complex organizations. For example, World Vision, one of the largest charities on our list, had $374 million in revenue in 2009. Many are carrying out complicated missions such as delivering programs in developing countries or supporting sophisticated medical research. Paying an experienced CEO a six-figure salary to make such an organization as effective as possible can be a good investment.

Don McCreesh, chair of Imagine Canada, an organization that supports the non-profit sector in Canada, argues that staff at charities shouldn’t be treated like volunteers. “In the charitable sector, you get what you pay for, just like in the corporate sector,” he says. “If you want to have efficient, effective organizations, you need to have top people.”

While we didn’t use the salaries as a factor in our ratings, we did feel that it was relevant information to provide to donors. By publishing all the salaries together, along with other measures showing how well the charity is meeting various standards, we believe we’ve provided some context. It’s up to you to decide whether a given charity’s top salary is out of whack with other charities in its sector. Either way, even McCreesh believes that salary information should be public. “In the charitable sector, we need to be straight up about what the salaries are and why. We need to have a discussion about what the salaries should be,” he says.

We asked all 100 charities to disclose what their CEOs made in 2009. Only 18 charities did so (each received one bonus point in the Governance and Transparency category). For those that didn’t, we used amounts from tax filings or from the Ontario government public sector salary disclosure list. The amounts given as a range are from the Canada Revenue Agency. Those amounts represent the salary of the highest-paid individual at the charity, who is not necessarily the CEO.

50 comments on “Does it matter what the CEO of a charity is paid?

  1. I have always maintained that you have absolutely no idea where your volunteer dollars are spent and no control once the cheque is written.
    My donations go to a volunteer christian ministry who provides medical/dental and surgical care to people in the far reaches of the developing and transitional world. I am a registered nurse with a surgical background and I have gone on eleven missions. This is a costly way to serve, as I pay all my expenses and purchase medications and supplies to bring with me. I fund raise for a year to finance this passion to serve on one mission . This is an opportunity to make an impact beyond comprehension, To hold and feed an ailing child, to help restore one's eyesight, to relieve one's pain. These are things I have done………the rewards are indescribable.

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    • Absolutely amazing

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    • I'd donate to Shirley's mission… but I wouldn't donate for a CEO's SIX FIGURE SALARY! Awesome woman you are!

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  2. I think CEO s of charity groups gettin 6 figure wages is way out of line,this money comes from people who are struggling them selves.This is the reason that I will not donate to these groups,I do donate to animal shelters and private people who have animal rescue groups. Thats it,no big charities and CEO out rageous wages.

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  3. I often wonder what peoples response to certain charities would be if the Charities had to publish how effective they are at reducing the need for their services. Third world focused charities that help children of the poor live and work thus encouraging their parents to have even more children to provide a greater family income would thus earn negative scores, whereas charities that FIX a problem would get top scores.
    How many charities in the last 20 have closed because their work has done? How many charities just provide an excuse for exotic location travel and FUN even planning for their 'workers' ???

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  4. Shirley, I think that your actions truly are philanthropic. If we were to use the same logic that justifies a CEO's salary to your particular expertise, then you would be paid and all your expenses covered. The logic being that "if we want the best nurse we have to pay for it." Instead you chose to give of your time and picked up the costs yourself. A good CEO who is motivated to make a difference will also take substantially less pay to do the job. I find it hard to accept that believng ina cause and having the credetials to run the organization are mututally exclusive. Does a CEO's salary matter? – You bet it does! It speaks volumes about the amount of commitment and what the culture of that charity is going to be.

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  5. Don't get fooled by "NOT FOR PROFIT" ie: FOOD BANKS ETC. not for profit just means they have to spend all the money they get in – and the management get very well paid and so do the office help it's a business and they suck as much out of it as they can using their expense accounts. You can fool some of the people all the time and all the people some of the time but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time, Wake up people you are being had – just like the big banks and wall street we hajve had enough and we are not going to take it anymore – – we are smarter than that!

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    • I think its appalling that the salaries reach a 6 figure income, its no charity ,its only marketing to get themselves richer. In India most of the people who work for charities do it on purely voluntary basis. just for info, even the president of India feels he has to give to the nation and works for free!!! NO MOre Donations from me for registered charities.

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    • This is such a gross generalization. I work for a reasonably large non-profit engaged in international development and have been in this industry for 15 years. It's a mixed bag. The range and variations in salaries and benefits is extreme. There are PLENTY of committed individuals working in this sector for the right reasons.

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    • you got it all right tipping beer for ya

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  6. What is a charity? Isn't it to help people who are not able to help themselves? Its disgraceful that the CEO's are even getting paid. It should be under volunteer work and there wouldn't be money distributed to the wrong people. We really need to get our heads out of the sand & take responsibility for how all of this came to pass. Its gone on long enough, just like the Wall Street fiasco. This is our hard earned cash they are messing with and we are allowing them to steal it right out from under us. What are you going to do about it????

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  7. What do these CEOs donate compared to what is given? How many are beyond rich as it is and could donate half their time and relegate to others the other half? Most CEOs/mega rich are not just one company. They are conglommerates and control the outcome of billions. I see so many volunteering to help put these guys in Italian suits, and italian leather shoes. The older you get the more you realize, that the real good people that volunteer do it for nothing. They are users, and as long as their underlings do it for nothing, they smile.

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  8. Try to imagine the effects on the world if everyone stopped donating to a cause because they didn't like the salary of the CEO…we need to think of the global issues and not only what happens in our own back yard. How many people die daily in Africa…how many of you care…do you realize that Africa hold the largest labour market for future generations including Canada where people are not having large families…do folks realize that the Congo has more natural resources than Canada…I have a dog…but it doesn't mean i will give only to the SPCA because i don't like the salary of the CEO of Vison Canada….priorities

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  9. It is with great sadness that I read the above post. I have worked in the not for profit area for over 20 years. I can assure you that I and most of my collegues do not make a six figure salery.
    My question to all of you, if you do not want to pay people to do the work, are you willing yourself to step up and volunteer? If not who will run the breakfast programs? Group homes? Shelters for abused women? Children's programs? Sexual assault centers? 24 hour crisis lines? Victim Service programs? These are just a few programs that contribute to healthy communities that relay on fundraiseing to stay afloat. Most people are unaware of or devalue these services, until you need them one day.

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    • People understand the need of having those services. The questions are "Do the highly paid CEO and workers understand the objectives of setting up those services, and the principle of charity?" "Do they have the heart to serve?" Charity means to donate time, energy, talent, money, etc, whatever one can afford." Charity workers should be compensated for their expenses, but not to make them rich; Their compensation should not exceed the benefit received by those they were set out to help. For example, if a charity provides help to 100,000 hungry children who survive on $1 a day, then the total compensation to all the workers in that organization should not exceed $100,000! They should not travel on "business class" or even "first class", stay in 5* hotel or resort, drink vintage wine….Save the fund for the much needed work!

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      • If you can feed 100,000 kids with only $100k worth of staff, please do so. I'd happily donate.

        The problem is you wont. Because it's pretty much impossible.

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  10. I am seriously thinking of stopping everything I do for charities and just give cash now and then to the street people on our streets on Yonge St. in Toronto.

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  11. I refuse to give to large charities like the cancer Society. It seems every week there`s a walk or run for some type of cancer, as if getting more money would produce a cure ! The truth is the cancer society has buried many cures[ see the book "The Cancer industry " by R Moss.]. What if we all stopped giving to this society? Only then would they finally come out with a cure to regain lost support. However, as long as the money flows in why end it with a cure ? There is something very wrong ethically with this charity and so many people can`t see it.

    I volunteer with a Canadian registered charity called " Northwest Haiti Christian Mission, Canada. The CEO and Director get no salary–100% of every dollar donated goes directly towards helping the Haitian people. Their website is http://www.nwhcm.ca.. Last April I went to Haiti at my own expense as we all do, including the CEO, and can verify that the work being done in Haiti is having a positive impact on the local people and all supplies donated from Canadians got to the people there.. This is a grassroots organization that spends very little on ads and promotions but all on its intended mission,. There IS HOPE.

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    • Bravo! That is the example for all charity organizations.

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  12. While I may agree that it is necessary to have skilled leaders, I am of the belief that we have countless senior retired executives who would be willing to give their time in support of worthwile chairatable organistaions.

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  13. This is just ridiculous, I own my own company, and I make a very substantial salary, but I am not masquerading around as a not-for-profit charity, which is just deceiving a) because not-for-profit means they spend all they take in, on things like salaries, and b) charities should be made up of volunteers not people who are paid way too much to do probably not as much as they should for their salary. If they were making 50K a year or so, that's more understandable as it is about the average salary, but a charity isn't a corporation, and their goal is not to pay executives huge paychecks, or waste money, but to spend the money of people who worked hard for it, to help other people, not dole out 6 figure paychecks. If you want a 6 figure paycheck, work for it in a big corporation, or start your own. Don't steal other people's voluntarity donated cash.

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    • Excellent post! Sums everything up!
      Had is been fair to pay CEOs that much, charities would not be shy about those pays while asking us to donate. First let the CEO donate his £200.000 to his own charity – because he can well live on remaining £100.000, then I will follow with my donation. We can all promise to donate all the money that we earn above the amount that a CEO gets AFTER he donates to his own charity!

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    • I agree completely! Most people have caught on to this scam and don't contribute unless they know for sure that close to 100% of their money is going to the cause. If you investigate a bit, you can find charities that are efficient and dedicated whose personnel often pay their own way utilizing the money that they have helped to raise.

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    • I fully agree with Richard, $ 50 k per year to the CEO is plenty of money. Now days charities are just another form of business, they use their fancy adds to get money from us hard working people, money that was heavily taxed so they can line their packets with, they should be ashamed. There was a time long ago when charities where run by smart people that had important positions with large corporations but donated their time and expertise to the non profit organizations with the sole scope in mind to help the underprivileged, expenditure was very minimal. Now days is all business, as the old saying goes "it takes money to make"
      I wold like to make a new saying "now days it takes money to donate money" is just another form of business. Never the less some of the money is reaching the people and that bit of money is making a very big difference in their life.
      Maybe our government should lay down some rules and set a salary cap for these non profit companies. If they can regulate the plastic shopping bags I am sure they can regulate the non profit companies more accurately.

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  14. Such narrow minded thinking! What the CEO makes is not what is important, it is how much money is being given back to programs that is important. If an organization is giving back +$80 /$100, then they are doing great work. Like it or not it cost money to run any organization, and no these people should not be expected to do it for free. These are multi million dollar companies, with huge responsibilities, that require very educated people to make them run efficient. They in many cases work very long hours and are constantly under the public eye to do better, and you expect them to do all that for free. How many of you would step up and do it, you don't even care enough to throw them $10 dollars because the CEO may get $1 of that. Your comments are a disgrace, the work they do is far more important than most CEO's of private companies who get paid twice that or sport players who get paid millions, and yet you continue to support them. The CEO's of these charities saved my life and the life of my children, they continue to support us and they are worth every penny they make!

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  15. My question to you is… would you work for free? If you did, would you work 40 hours plus a week? Should doctors and nurses then work for free as well? They are saving people's lives (just like charities). Charities employ a lot of people. If they didn't pay these people we would have that many more people who would need their services, and who would be on welfare. Many of these 6 figure CEOs run large charities. You need someone who is committed and knowledgeable. Sure you might be able to get someone cheaper, but how long would they last and how well would they do? Would the charity be able to do the same amount of good work? People who work at a charity need the same equality of living as does someone who works in for-profit. Because their chosen career is in the human services field means they deserve less? Seriously?

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  16. What bothers me the most is that this article is hiding the real amount these people are being paid. We use the word salary and these people are too smart to let us know how much they really collect. Let us use the words PERKS AND BENEFITS and see how much they make on these two items alone – MILLIONS AND MILLIONS of dollars in perks and benefits, like the roll royce or driver driven caddy, trips, expensive hotel rooms and food, the best cell phones and all the long distance charges, expensive clothes or clothing allowances, special schools for their children, computers, software, and it goes on and on and on, etc. It all adds up and no one is looking at the costs. Where is all the money coming from for all their perks and benefits. These are the two main million dollar expenses.

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  17. PS – Kathy – doctors and nurses work for the people who actually pay their wages. There's a difference. The people who pay that money get something back. And the nurses especially earn far, far less than a lot of charity workers, and work far harder. Your comment makes no sense. People don't donate their hard earned money in order to keep their countrymen in jobs, but to help those the charity advertises as being in great need. And yes – a lot of people who work for charity DO do it for nothing. In fact, they often contribute their own money to it.

    People who defend these ridiculously large salaries always miss the point – the money was donated out of goodwill, to help the poor. It shouldn't be abused in the way it's being. Again – it is indefensible, so any attempted defence always looks completely illogical.

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  18. 'The best people for the job' – funny how the 'best people' run the system into the ground! And as for pressure – nurses, for example, are under FAR greater pressure for FAR less money. So are many, many others. Nobody decent would take a six-figure salary from money that's meant to go to those who are, literally, starving. Or struggling just to stay alive. Or in desperate need of medical care.

    It DOES matter what the CEO earns, because his salary comes from the money GIVEN to the charity by people who are usually on low incomes, under the impression their money is going to help the poor.

    It's a shameless exploitation, and those who are going to suffer most in the end are, of course, those who need it most. These salaries are literally indefensible. Anyone who tries doesn't understand what charity really is. (hint: it's not meant for the rich.)

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    • i have stoped giving any money to charity, i would rather go and feed my self,thats 100 % money spent where it should and 0% on administration

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  19. Well, I work for a charity as a Program Implementation Specialist with an incredibly motivated and competent CEO who doesn't get six figures, which I know because transparency and honesty are the keys to a charity's success. And folks commenting on overpaying entry level staff – don't fool yourselves and make erroneous statements without reference – there is definitely a downward trend in entry level salaries in the sector, which is correlated to the lack of available jobs and a glut of available workers. Government workers are the folks who are sucking in huge salaries plus benefits off tax dollars, and many people in government, like many of people in the charitable sector, are incredibly incompetent. I receive less than per capita GDP in salary and basic medical insurance for drugs, glasses, dental, but 0 long term pension provisos and wage increases per annum that are lower than inflation, which is not exactly high, even in these uncertain economic times. Gosh I must be crazy, right? Or maybe I really do care.

    There are plenty of unemployed NGO-trained post grads out there who are wage takers, not wage specifiers, and you don't go into this line of work to get rich – while there are always a few exceptions, do not delude yourself into thinking it is a gravy train for those of us doing the actual work on the ground – it is extremely high pressure, frequently extremely high risk, usually involves overburdened work schedules, and lots of turnover and depression in general. It is a business that thrives off misery, but a business under constant scrutiny to cut admin costs to bare minimums. This can hurt programming if an organization does not hire sufficient staff – so make sure the charity you invest in isn't slamming their employees with impossible workloads, because though everything appears rosy, your money could be falling into a black hole. It costs money to manage money – and Kathy and Joanne make very relevant points in that regard. I would NEVER give to a charity comprised completely of volunteers as suggested above – nothing would get done, because there is no incentive to meet deliverables. Sometimes, contrary to this article's statement, you DON'T get what you pay for in charities.

    The exec is a different story. I agree with the general sentiment that six figure salaries are shameful for the charitable sector and really only serve to deter giving. The banking bonuses received on Wall Street draw a lot of fire, but that money is peanuts in the banking sector, much like 250K is a drop in the bucket for WV – the public is wrong, the public is misinformed, but the public is powerful. Like Joanne notes – it is about how much money goes to programs.

    There's enough belief and altruism in the folks that work in this sector, however naive it may be, that you don't need corporate remuneration pay scales, though people shouldn't be expected to work like slaves because they work for a charity – it is a business, you need to be educated, often multilingual, and gifted communicators. That said, with revenue at 347 mil worldwide, I understand the CEO of Worldvision International getting the 250K, but the CEO of Worldvision Canada pulling that in? Consider they have CEOs in something like 25 separate countries, most of which are wealthy donor countries, and it adds up big time.

    If you want to give and truly make it 0 waste, you need to take the initiative like our first poster Shirley, and do it yourself, because waste is relative, and if you read annual reports, you never hear about all of the terrible unsuccessful projects – you are constantly being fed positive reporting, some true, some complete hogwash. Throwing money at a problem far away is a calculated risk if you do not do your research before giving: if charity actually worked and we pooled donations to date from 1967 into one pot, one implementer, we could have rid the world of malaria, smallpox, and polio (yep, they're all still around!), ended world hunger, reduced maternal mortality to near 0 worldwide, and have everybody literate. Instead we're all still in the hole – it is not an efficient sector, it has never been efficient.

    The real problem is the whole system of competitive charities – there is so much replication and duplication of projects, a tangible aura of mistrust between charities and an unwillingness to share truthful information with each other or the public, and nearly no donor coordination from the ground up (there are top down UN coordinators for relief like OCHA, which is why relief, though a bandaid, does work). If these charities were actually making statistically significant improvements in health, education, and women's lib in other countries, they should be paid – they should be paid big time.

    But they aren't, so it is appropriate to scrutinize, but I urge you to be informed. Do it for a tax receipt, but don't get up in arms when you see waste – it's been like that since inception, and some of us dedicate our lives, leisure time, and the opportunity cost of higher pay and more financial security for our families to try and fix it from the inside. Hopeless cause? Don't give. It's your prerogative.

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  20. That is very sad to read but I always knew that only a small percentage of the fee given to charity reaches its final destination. I am not saying CEOs should not get paid for their job but I do think it should be kept in perspective of the actual aim of the organization.

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  21. Does it matter what the CEO makes? HECK YES IT MATTERS. I don't pay money to a charity so the fat suit can buy more expensive brandy and drive his maserati around. I am sorry but "Not For Profit' doesn't really seem to stand for that in this society. Precisely why I donate to Lady Fatima Trust that helps the poorest of the poor in the under developed countries, with zero admin fees. That's what charity is suppose to be. Not some organization that claims to help the poor by stuffing their bellies first. My friend from Ghana told me the biggest most lavish building their is World Visions. Can you believe it. Makes me sick.

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  22. I can't help but be impressed with the comment thread here. For me, the payroll for charities should not be abnormally high. It's called a "charity' for a reason and most of what you do here is labor of love and not for money. Just saying.

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  23. 90% of the comments on this article are complaints about CEO's salaries and claims that individuals working at not-for-profits should be working 'for free'… volunteering. In other words, 90% of the comments in this article are illogical.
    In the world these commenters wish they lived in, not-for-profits would be comprised of 100% voluntary labour. In order to be able to volunteer full-time as a CEO for a charity, you need to be wealthy to start off with. In order to be wealthy, you need to work for a large corporation. Working for a large corporation contributes to the problems that plague our society (and fuels the increasing divide between the rich and the poor both nationally and internationally) and which are in large part the foundation of this need for not-for-profits. (continued in next comment)

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  24. As the 10% of commenters have mentioned, those who work for not-for-profits put in the same blood, sweat and tears as do those who work in the private sector (often even more-so). They choose to WORK for these not-for-profits because they believe in the cause (and they probably volunteer for other not-for-profits in their spare time). Are these employees not entitled to a fair level of compensation? I (as many others have) would challenge anyone who is posting negative comments in this string to think about the cause you believe in most in the world for a minute. Imagine giving up all you have, and living on welfare (since that is pretty much what you are proposing) in order to work full-time, 40+ hours per week for that cause. For those who are religious, stop casting the first stone. For those who are not religious, please continue to donate money to NON-religion based charities, for it is these charities who are purest (and don't disguise any missionary goals under the veil of not-for-profit work). –continued in next comment

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  25. Anyway I am recently out of university, working for a not-for-profit, making way less than I would for a big corporation (and in fact that is the excuse my organization uses to decline everytime I ask for a raise). I come from a lower middle class family (blue collar), and currently save up maybe 1 or 2 thousand dollars per year- I'll never have enough for a nice house (or post-graduate education) if I keep working at a not-for-profit. By implying that everyone who works at not-for-profits should do it on a volunteer basis (or salary significantly lower than what people make elsewhere), that would severely limit the types/backgrounds of people who would be ABLE to work for a not-for-profit. I want to work (full-time) for a not-for-profit because I believe in a cause, but because I'm not from money or haven't previously sold my soul to a corporation you're going to tell me I can't do it? That's absurd- so long as at least 60 (at the very least) or more preferably 70+% of donations are going to the actual cause, people who work for not-for-profits still deserve fair wages that allow a decent standard of living, regardless of their own financial background..

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  26. I'm a volunteer with a charity that has no paid staff of any kind – NONE.
    I see this as a big problem.
    No one HAS to do anything. No is REQUIRED to do anything. No one is responsible for KNOWING anything. We even lost our charitable status because no one submitted the year end CRA documents. The volunteer who had done it in the past left and those of us who remained didn't know anything about it.
    Someone has to be paid to be responsible for the charity, to make sure things that must be done get done.

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  27. Fair wages and ridiculously inflated wages are two different subjects.

    My biggest concern is that most of the overseas charities are "designed to combat poverty." In order to effectively combat poverty you must first acknowledge that there is a disproportionate wealth and power relationship between nations in the wold.

    With that knowledge comes the reality that certain people are hoarding wealth and resources in such abundance that the majority of the worlds population live in squaller.

    If a CEO of a major Charity is not willing to internalize that fact and make humble living a part of their self then they have NO place advocating on behalf of the poor.

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  28. Having worked for a non-profit corporation for the past 15 years, believe me when I say that it is a labor of love but also a frustrating one when government cuts off funding, when the community you are trying to help pays out what would normally be your funding to a not-for-profit that pays higer salaries to their employees and pushes you out of the running. Many of the CEO of small not-for-profits make barely enough to buy their own food for their tables. Yes, we believe in tha cause, but where do you find the funding your not-for-profit needs to survive when the legalese terms hold you back and you have to hire someone to fill in the funding application and that person will reap 75% of the incoming funding? Where is the equality in that? Sorry, but at my end, life is not rosy.

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    • Maybe all charities should include a small percentage for wages and expenses and let donors know what this is. Also stop using expensive offices and highly paid staff in London. (this part of the comment does not necessarily mean you, frustrated CEO.)

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  29. I think if a person is working full time for any company they need to be paid so they "can live." I do not think they need 6 figures to live. No one can live on nothing so if a person is working 40 plus hours a week working for a charity then they deserve to be paid for that work. Lets face it people need to care for their families while they save the world.

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    • I agree, a living wage or national average (not in London)

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  30. I think it would be ideal if charities could be run on a volunteer basis, but we all need live. So salaries need to be paid, but at £2.00 per month (suggested donation) from people, who are often on less than average wages, 10,000 people would be needed to pay one salary of £120,000! Obviously a ridiculously low wage for some of your highly educated and stupendously generous executives! A living wage is what’s needed that doesn’t include champagne and caviar.

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  31. Where is the table of charities?

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  32. Couldn’t see the graph or list with the varying salaries think I missed something

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  33. 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!

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  34. meal allowance for teaching on the mentioned school who teach vulnerable children.

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  35. I won’t donate to a charity that does not disclose this information. I do have issues with CEOs making big salaries and great retirement packages when they take public funds the same with so called evangelist living in $10 million mansions when they are taking the widows mite. Part of their job should be charitable also.

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