Is the worker worthy of his/her wages?

This morning’s Daily Telegraph is reporting on salaries paid to top executives in a number of leading charities, including Tear Fund and Christian Aid. You can read the numbers here.

It raises various questions such as whether it is acceptable for an organisation that depends on charitable donations to pay its leader a six figure salary or whether it is acceptable for an organisation that is working with some of the world’s neediest to be paying large salaries.

And there is that well-worn debate about whether it is better to donate to charities with lower overheads who manage to get a larger proportion of their income directly to the field. That is a wider issue.

With regard to salaries, charities will wish to argue that they need to pay reasonable salaries if they are going to be able to attract the best qualified people to the job. As the old saying goes, ‘if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.’ No doubt, also, if some of these executives were working in the private/corporate sector, some of them would be earning even more.

What to make of it all? Should donors boycott charities who pay salaries above a certain amount? Should executives be expected to offer their skills and experience at a greatly reduced rate?

And do explicitly Christian charities come into a category of their own? Given that their work is seen as an outworking of their faith, what aspects of biblical teaching should be brought to bear on how they operate?

The Bible does teach that the worker deserves his wages (1 Timothy 5 – where the context is local church leaders). At the same time it warns prospective church leaders not to get involved in leadership as a way to make money. While a Christian charity is not a local church, how does its salary structure reflect a path between these two aspects of biblical teaching?

What kinds of accountability should there be for a Christian charity, its board and CEO? How do they relate to the church? At the end of the day a Christian CEO is answerable to God for how he/she spends whatever salary is earned, whether it is 50k or 100k. None of us looking on knows what such an executive does with his/her salary: how much of it goes on some form of compensating for a family who accepts long hours and stressful phonecalls from a disaster zone at 3 a.m.; how much even gets ploughed back into charitable work.

Feel free to chip into the discussion here – especially if you have experience in the sector.

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2 thoughts on “Is the worker worthy of his/her wages?

  1. Thanks for this, Alan. Twitter isn’t the best medium for dialogue on difficult questions. I think your key question is how do Christian charities relate to the Church. The purpose of any para-church organisation is to serve the local Church and to help it fulfil it’s mission. Things like programmes and activities need to be worked out in dialogue with Churches as do salaries. The problem is that we have seen charities as being independent of the Church and so have not had an appropriate form of governance and oversight. I would see the salary issue as just a symptom of a deeper problem.

    Just for the record, I am the CEO of a medium sized charity/mission and I have to raise my own support.

  2. I think a Christian charity / missionary organisation is in a different category in so far as, if it wasn’t for a clear sense of calling, you wouldn’t stay in the job for the money you get. The call and sense of purpose is what keeps you from entering secular work were you know you could have a much higher salary. If you want to get rich – don’t become a missionary.
    If a non-profit organisations main source of income is gifts, then this places a great responsibility on the organisation to make sure they are being good stewards of what has been given to them.
    As someone who is responsible for raising my own support, I know that ‘donors’ have varying understandings about the standard of living that a ‘missionary’ should have. Some believe you should live as modestly as possible, not own a house or a newish car and never go on a holiday. While others are quite happy with your standard of living as long as (dare I say it?) it’s not better than theirs. However most donors I know, are geniunly generous people who say, “I give to God and what you do with it is your business… You do a job and you deserve your wages…”
    In our organisation, everyone gets the same salary as other missionaries in the same country, regardless of their position. That salary is made up from donations that have been raised by the individual or by general funds.
    When a “call” is part of the employment contract, there is normally a willingness to accept a salary which is far below the scale for the skills and experience that employee brings. Here a sacrifice is made with the conviction that the priority in life is not to have the best job you can get with the largest salary possible.
    When a “call” is not a requirement, but having a leader with the necessary skill and experience, then I can understand the need to provide him with an attractive financial package which may not reflect 1:1 secular sallery scales but may need to be close.
    Currently in cash-strapped Europe, there is zero tolerance for anyone who seems to be rolling in money when others are having to count their pennies. We have seen this with the bankers’ bonuses and now with the charity CEOs. Perhaps in a more economic prosperous time, such a story would not really make the headlines? I dont know, but what might help public confidence in these times, would be if every non-profit would publish their annual accounts, showing us the percentage breakdowns of how income was allocated. That way you would know what percentage of their gift actually went to what you thought they were giving it for.

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