Charities must repay public trust
The list of earnings by the heads of a wide range of charities published in today's Belfast Telegraph may raise many eyebrows. One of the highest paid is Nevin Ringland, founder and chief executive of Praxis Care, a leading mental health charity, who earned £142,000 last year, while Peter Power, the all-Ireland executive director of Unicef, received £114,000, and Tim Cooke, the director and chief executive of National Museums Northern Ireland, received more than £100,000.
According to the Charities Commission, there are 6,460 charity organisations registered in Northern Ireland. This newspaper surveyed 60 of the best-known charities, and most of them responded, with 34 revealing that their chief executive earns more than £50,000 a year.
This level of income has to be seen against a background of continuing austerity during which charities are competing even more strongly for donations. People are entitled to ask about value for money, and to determine this many factors have to be taken into account.
These include the size of the charity, the numbers employed, the type of work being carried out, and where the benefits are being felt at home and overseas.
For example, the salary of £142,000 for Mr Ringland of Praxis Care seems large, but so too is his responsibility in running an organisation that employs around 1,200 people.
There is no suggestion in any of these surveys of impropriety, and the charities themselves are aware of the need to adhere to strict regulations in fundraising and in the use of any money which the public entrusts to them.
Part of the difficulty of assessing salaries in the charity sector is the concept of charity itself. For many years the public's concept of a charity might have been that of a small organisation doing good work on a shoestring budget, and needing some help.
Nowadays, however, many charities are big businesses and they require qualified and skilled staff to make the best use of the money at their disposal.
It is therefore important that they attract the right people, and to do so they need to pay a salary commensurate with the duties involved.
The public no doubt will continue to give generously, but it is up to the charities to repay that trust and to continue to apply the highest degree of transparency about the necessary and vital role they play in helping people in need.