'Charities need to stop apologising for investing in infrastructure and that includes CEO salaries'

Charities need to invest in people and in plans if they want to make a difference, writes Lucy Masterson.

PEOPLE WHO WORK in the not-for-profit (NFP) sector go to work day in day out with a mission to make extraordinary things happen, to provide hope for refugees, a place called home for families living in B&Bs and to never stop until cancer does. If their “A Day in the Life” was a movie, it would be Mission Impossible.

But it’s not a movie, these are professional people who take it upon themselves to do extraordinary work in the growing market of social inequality, injustice and disadvantage. So, what staggers me is the attitude that is often taken to those running and working in modern charities.

We don’t demonise doctors for getting paychecks

Fundraisers who apply professional standards to raise money to advance their cause are often met with cynicism and the charity CEO who invests in infrastructure, which will amplify the social impact of their organisations, is often accused of being careless. This is holding back a vital section of our economy that should be booming and it has to stop.

Since when did it become acceptable to demonise people who take a pay cheque for saving lives, and yet we are more than happy to reward CEOs in the private sector based on their market performance. The CEO of pharmaceutical company Vertex, who manufactures the potentially life altering drug for Cystic Fibroses sufferers, Orkambi, takes home a tidy $45,000,000.

Where are our priorities? Or as Rachel Renock in her article “A F****** Non Profit Revolution“ asks “Why are we so focused on making easy lives even easier when there are hard lives getting harder?”

shutterstock_256828675 Shutterstock / Andrey_Popov Shutterstock / Andrey_Popov / Andrey_Popov


We vastly underestimate the contribution of not-for-profits to our economy and the gap they fill in a lacking State provision. Over 132,000 people are directly employed in the sector, not to mention those working in indirect jobs linked to it.

Far from being a “taker”, research shows that the charitable sector contributes €5.5bn per annum to our national GDP.


Of course there has been cause for questions and charities must (and are)
embracing radical transparency. No longer is it good enough to behave and act like good works justifies operating to slightly lower standards in how we fundraise, pay our staff and reveal our financial records.

But to operate to the highest standards requires the very best people and systems to do just that.

We are consistently ranked in the top 10 of the most generous in the global giving index

Us Irish are great givers. When it comes to generosity we come up trumps. Whether it’s through our donations or our volunteerism, (over half a million people show up every week across Ireland in a voluntary capacity) the altruistic nature of helping the underdog and caring for those less fortunate than ourselves, is baked into our DNA.

We are consistently ranked in the top 10 of the most generous in the global giving index. The original Irish innovators, “Gods Entrepreneurs”, were the missionaries who headed to far flung corners of the globe to provide care and education to those in desperate need. For decades there wasn’t a family in Ireland who didn’t have an aunt or uncle in the missions.

The lay community has now filled that gap and continues to provide a rich tapestry of support and care in the community at home and abroad. But let’s not forget that while these people have a conviction to make a positive difference to society, they didn’t take a vow of poverty and obedience. They have mortgages and grocery bills to pay, just like the rest of us.

We need to invest in the people and plans to make sure we make that happen

If we are going to make a dent in that seemingly impossible mission to eradicate cancer once and for all, to solve the homeless crisis, or to make sure no child is born to die on a dinghy afloat in the Mediterranean, we need to invest in the people and plans to make sure we make that happen.

So the next time you are thinking about what cause to support remember the words of Dan Palotta in his compelling Ted talk:

“Our generation does not want its epitaph to read we kept charity overhead low. We want it to read that we changed the world, and that part of the way we did that was by changing the way we think about these things. So the next time you’re looking at a charity, don’t ask about the rate of their overhead. Ask about the scale of their dreams, their Apple, Google, Amazon-scaled dreams, how they measure their progress towards those dreams, and what resources they need to make them come true regardless of what the overhead is. Who cares what the overhead is if these problems are actually getting solved?”

Lucy Masterson is the CEO of Charities Institute Ireland (CII). The organisation, formed in November 2016, represents more than 200 of the country’s top charities and works to promote best practices and to restore public trust and confidence in the charity sector.

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