Decider, House Rules; why charities should have the freedom to choose whether they pay trustees

picture of scrabble board

Decider, House Rules; why charities should have the freedom to choose whether they pay trustees

As part of Trustees Week, we have two blogs on whether or not trustees should be paid. Both are written by actual trustees and both have completely opposing points of viewIn this one, Joe Saxton argues that charities should be allowed to choose for themselves...

Each charity should be able to make its own decision about whether it pays any or all of its trustees. And that decision should be as simple as the one on whether it wants to have paid staff. In my book, the arguments against paying trustees also apply to paying staff.

Here are just a few of the reasons why a charity should be able to choose for itself:

Each charity knows best what’s right for that charity

The people who know best about a charity are those people who run it. They’re the ones who know their mission, their finances and their situation, not distant sector bloggers or Charity Commission bureaucrats.

And Rachel Egan doesn’t

Nor do all the other people who are opposed to paying trustees. What they are effectively saying is that they know better what is needed for each charity than the people who run it. Equally astonishing is that they are saying individual charities who might benefit from paying trustees shouldn’t be allowed to because of some ill-defined greater good.

The public don’t know who is and who isn’t paid in charities

The greater good that some people claim is that voluntary trusteeship is the bedrock of public trust in the voluntary sector. Sadly, the public have not been told this. In our research, the public are more likely to think trustees are paid than fundraisers. So, arguing that public trust in charities will fall if we pay trustees has little basis in fact. Paying staff over £100k a year does knock trust in charities – but those who oppose paying trustees are often those who defend high staff salaries.

Voluntary trusteeship reduces diversity

There are lots of legitimate arguments about the lack of diversity on trustee boards. All too often, trustees are disproportionately white and old. The capacity to pay trustees might allow people who can’t afford to give their time on a regular basis to finally become one. I believe that this is likely to be good for diversity on age at the very least.

In big charities, a chair needs the time to balance the power of the CEO

The biggest charities are now earning hundreds of millions of pounds a year. Their CEOs are paid in the hundreds of thousands. Ensuring the presence of the right checks and balances is critical. Having trustees with enough time to really get under the skin of what is going on (and not just take all their information from the board papers) is one way to do this. And for some people in some organisations, that means being paid to do one day a week, or whatever is needed.

In small charities, a part-time paid trustee could be a perfect solution

Many small charities grapple with the challenge of when to start having paid staff. They also grapple with the need to have reliable volunteers. So when a key volunteer says, “my wife has just been made redundant, I can’t go on giving this much time” it could be a perfect solution for them to be paid and be a trustee.

How come it is ok for staff to be paid, but not trustees?

One of the biggest mysteries for me is when paid staff members in charities vociferously speak out against paying trustees when they themselves are paid. Either it’s ok to have paid employees or it isn’t. But the idea that the people who have all the legal responsibility for what a charity does shouldn’t be paid and those who have none of it can be paid is bewildering. The only sense it makes is nonsense.

Lots of other not-for-profit organisations now pay their boards

I want charities to thrive. In a competitive world, I want charities to hold their own against companies, QUANGOs, NDPBs, hospital trusts and the rest. That means they need the best trustees and if they need to pay one or two of those to let them give the right amount of their time, that makes complete sense. As Deng Xiao Peng used to say, “it doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white as long as it catches the mouse.”

99% of charities won’t pay trustees

The way people talk about it, it’s easy to imagine that paying trustees is a virulent plague ready to strike down unwary charities when they least expect it. The reality is that 99% of charities will never pay their trustees. While this is a guess, 90% of charities (or more) don’t pay their staff. So my estimate is that in time maybe one in 10 charities that pay staff might pay a trustee. Probably not all of them and very, very rarely for more than a day or two a week. It’s hardly the end of the charity sector as we know it.

In summary, if a trustee board thinks that paying trustees is the right thing for their charity, they should be able to do so as easily as paying staff.

The idea that anybody else knows better than the trustee board of a charity what is right for that charity is arrogance in the highest degree. 


Joe is chair of People & Planet and a trustee of Lake District Calvert Trust. He is the former chair of the Institute of Fundraising, CharityComms and the Cumnor School Association and a former trustee of the RSPCA. He has never been paid for any of these roles.


We're also running a one click poll to gauge your opinion - vote on whether trustees should be paid here!


Submitted by Chris Spriggs (not verified) on 8 Nov 2013


I think you have made a very clear and compelling argument for charities to have the choice. Of course, a trustee won't necessarily be paid £'000s, which people balk at. I agree that diversity and availability would improve, more time would be dedicated to vital strategic issues, and payment doesn't eliminate or replace a 'voluntary motivation'. Why not allow a regular baseline payment for a trustee for a period of time or dedicated project, upon which they can do additional voluntary hours. Doesn't have to be either/or. People need to be less black/white (liek the cat) and focus on the outcome we want. Here here for choice for charities.

Submitted by Kevin Baughen (not verified) on 15 Nov 2013


I agree 100%

I've been saying this for years... if we want a representative Board we need to be able to attract a wider group than those who are either retired and have the time or are wealthy enough to be able to give time for free. Simple.

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