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First-class travel for charities frowned upon by public, finds survey

First-class travel for charities frowned upon by public, finds survey
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First-class travel for charities frowned upon by public, finds survey4

Finance | Jonathan Last | 13 Apr 2012

The issue that concerns the British public the most about whether a charity is applying donations prudently is whether members of staff travel first class, according to research by nfpSynergy.

In data compiled as part of nfpSynergy’s Charity Awareness Monitor, which posed a variety of charity-related questions to 1,012 Britons aged 16+ nationwide on 11 November 2011, 55 per cent of those asked the question ‘Would knowing any of the following about a charity make you feel confident that they would spend a donation well?’ selected the option ‘No member of staff ever travelled first class on expenses’.

The next most popular choice was whether anyone in the charity is paid more than £50,000 per year (46 per cent), followed by if no one gets a bonus (43 per cent). The lowest concerns were whether all members would work for free one day a month, with 8 per cent, and if all new staff were unpaid for their first month, with only 3 per cent.

Seven per cent of respondents said that nothing at all would make them feel confident that a charity would spend their donation well.

Respondents were allowed to select up to five answers from the following (with the percentage each answer was chosen in brackets):

  • No member of staff ever travelled first class on expenses (55 per cent)
  • Nobody in the organisation is paid more than £50,000 a year (46 per cent)
  • Nobody gets a bonus (43 per cent)
  • The charity is mostly run by volunteers (42 per cent)
  • Nobody in the organisation is paid more than £100,000 a year (37 per cent)
  • All administration costs are paid for by Gift Aid money claimed on donations (29 per cent)
  • Staff pay for their own Christmas party (21 per cent)
  • All photocopying was on recycled paper (18 per cent)
  • No offices in London (16 per cent)
  • No printing was on glossy paper (eleven per cent)
  • All staff members work for free one day a month (eight per cent)
  • All new staff are unpaid for their first month (three per cent)
  • Other (two per cent)
  • Not sure (ten per cent)
  • Nothing would make me feel confident they would spend a donation well (seven per cent)

Joe Saxton, founder of nfpSynergy, thinks that what stands out from these results is how simple it could be to give donors confidence.

"I'm sure the majority of charity employees do not travel first-class," he said. "Our responses suggest that the public would be easily reassured if organisations made it visible that they do not, in fact, partake in the actions that people find so disagreeable.

"For instance, they could state in their documentation that they do not use donor money for luxury excursions, they aren't paid huge wages, they don't get bonuses, and so on. They could make a virtue out of these facts.

"We see from this research how people respond to factors that they can relate to – it's similar to the MP expenses scandal, where members of the public reacted angrily to the idea that those in privileged positions were exploiting public money for additional homes and other tangible benefits."

Barry Gower
16 Apr 2012

I would happily see charities pay enormous salaries with fantastic perks and bonuses, if those earning them could 'justify' such payments by the the 'returns' they generated for the charity. Unfortunately, unlike public businesses and corporations, there is not really anything like a share price, or a dividend for investors on which this can be measure. Equally, charities in the main seem to put forward an image of being more 'ideals driven' than 'results driven', and their funds are seen more as gifts than being earned. Consequently donors regard anything that is not seen to be being spent directly on the cause as being wasted.

I agree with Peter - charities ARE businesses, and should be run as such. There may be constraints and ideals which mean other factors have to be taken into consideration, but at then end of the day charities must be run in the best, most efficient way to achieve the maximum good for the beneficiaries of the charities

Peter Munro
13 Apr 2012

Very interesting.

Personally, I could relate to no member of staff travelling first class on expenses, nobody getting a bonus, and trustees being volunteers.
I'm not at all sure about putting a blanket cap on salaries; as it depends on the size of the organisation; however what I would like to see is a policy that salaries for senior staff rise no faster than salaries for junior staff.
The idea that all administration costs be paid for by Gift Aid is ridiculous. Staff that work for nothing are volunteers.

Whatever else, charities with staff are businesses, and I don't feel that staff should have to pay for their own Xmas party providing that it is a reasonable cost. I also think that volunteers should be invited, too, for free.
I don't think that photocopying on recycled paper is feasible, and it might be more expensive.

I really do wonder why charities that don't deliver purely London services have offices in London; they could save a lot of money and provide better working conditions for their staff and volunteers elsewhere; and those people would probably have better living conditions, too.

Michelle Stratford
Freelance Consultant to the Voluntary Sector
13 Apr 2012

I agree with Mike Wade - the factors are a bit bizarre and leading. I'd also comment that it's a little strange that an organisation 'run mostly by volunteers' is identified as making a charity more trustworthy - we're talking 'run by', not staffed by - personally I'd want a charity to have professional, paid staff running it with the responsbility and accountability that being in paid positions bring, supported by volunteers used appropriately.

Mike Wade
Director of Fundraising and Communications
NDCS
13 Apr 2012

Hmm. Are donors *really* concerned about 1st class travel? Or are they just ticking the most outragous sounding option on a prompted list? I'd wager that if you included "£1m bonuses to all trustees" the great public would tick that as well.

I wonder what issues would have come up in response to an unprompted question? If an issue doesn;t come up here, I'd be sceptical of how reassuring it would be to bleat "we don't do it!"

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