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Responses to critical questions

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This section offers guidance for responding to some of the critical questions frequently asked about charities.

These messages were developed by communications experts in a range of charities using insight from the qualitative research, and the tested and refined via a second set of focus groups. They’re outlines and you’ll need to adapt them to suit your organisation.

Why are charity executives paid high salaries?


  • The public accept the need for charity chief executives to be paid but feel that some salaries are too high
  • The role of charity chief executive is felt to be a public service role, so many feel that it is already expected that a pay cut would be taken when moving from the corporate sector, and reiterating it does little to move people.
  • Part of what would make levels of pay acceptable is the knowledge that the chief executive is accountable, or that their pay is performance-related. Even where pay is not performance-related, emphasising accountability is helpful, particularly accountability to a board of volunteers.


We completely understand that donors want us to run as efficiently as possible. We need experienced staff to run effectively, and we need to be able to attract those staff.

An experienced charity executive makes sure that the charity spends its money effectively, makes the difference it is trying to, and accounts to donors and the public for what it spends.

Our senior staff are accountable to an independent board of volunteers who make sure that they are getting value for money. These volunteers decide what pay is fair based on skills, experience, and performance in the job.

Because being transparent is important to us, we’ve set out the full details of what our senior staff are paid, and how those sums were decided at, on our website.

NB NCVO recommends that charities set out the details of senior executive pay and how it is set in an accessible place. This helps explain how salaries are arrived at and demonstrates a commitment to transparency. Read more in the Report of the inquiry into charity senior executive pay (PDF 1.6MB).

Is my donation all spent on administration?


  • The public accept that charities need to spend money on operational costs and salaries.
  • However, they want reassurance that this is done as prudently as possible so that money is focused on the front line.
  • Reminding people of different kinds of frontline roles helps to remind them of the impact that charities make.


Some essentials – such as an office, computers, transport, insurance and proper accounting – are necessary to run any effective organisation.

Charities spend as prudently as possible here so they can focus their income on their issue or cause.

In most cases, spending on salaries is paying for front-line staff such as care workers, debt advisors, animal protection officers or medical researchers who are absolutely critical to a charity achieving what it sets out to do.

Charities want to spend as much as they can on the front-line, but we need to spend some money on the things that ensure we’re being effective, such as good management and accounting. This makes sure that every pound is spent as effectively as possible.

More information about how we spend our money is available on our website.

Why do charities hound people for money, particularly vulnerable groups like the elderly?


  • People accept that charities need to fundraise. But they remain concerned about some of the methods used.
  • The public are looking for clear, simple pledges (‘we won’t do this’, ‘we always do this’).
  • Proactively encouraging people to contact the regulator if they are concerned does show that charities are taking concerns seriously.
  • Though we need to be careful when talking about the regulator and the code of fundraising practice as it can be hard for some people to understand. People understand better if you talk about the specific things which are or aren’t allowed.


Charities only make the difference they do because of the public’s generous support. We know that there have been times where charities have fallen short of their own standards in fundraising and they are working to put it right.

Many charities have made significant changes to the way they fundraise. Some charities have moved to ‘opt-in’ only models of consent for contacting donors, others are reviewing their practices and processes to make sure they are in line with what donors expect. Charities are keeping a much closer eye on any companies carrying out fundraising on their behalf.

Because charities collectively know how important following high standards is, they have set up a new fundraising regulator with strong powers to take action against any charities that break the rules.

The code of fundraising practice, the rule book on fundraising that charities sign up to, has been toughened up including the banning of selling data and new measures to protect more vulnerable individuals.

We urge anyone who has had a bad experience with fundraising to contact us, because they will want to know and make sure it’s put right. You can also contact the new regulator, the Fundraising Regulator, on 0300 999 3407 or

Why do charities campaign against the government – they shouldn’t be political


  • Despite some attempts to precipitate concern about this, the issue has very little resonance with the public.
  • The public’s understanding of campaigning is limited.
  • But in general people are supportive of charities highlighting issues that affect their beneficiaries, even if it would be challenging for politicians.


Our campaigns are aimed at raising awareness of the issues facing the people we work for.

Charities can and do campaign for politicians to do things. In fact, sometimes campaigning for something might be the most effective way of a charity meeting its goals.

Charities are able to support specific policies. A health charity, for example, might campaign to improve certain aspects of healthcare. So, charities can run campaigns that are political in nature, because they’re calling for specific policies, but they can’t exist solely for political campaigning, and crucially, they mustn’t ever be party political.

There are extensive rules set down by the Charity Commission on the detail of how charities can campaign. A charity’s campaigns have to be in line with the things it is established for.

Why do charities use negative advertising to make people feel guilty?


  • Charity supporters accept the need for charities to show hard-hitting images
  • However, it’s vital that these are balanced with images showing the positive impact donations are having, not just showing a problem but showing the solution, too.
  • People are concerned if they think that distressing content is being shown when children may see it.


Sometimes charity adverts can be hard-hitting, but charities are always conscious of the viewer and think carefully about what they air. There are things happening in the world that people will feel uncomfortable about but part of charities’ role is to show things how they are and to shed a light on difficult problems.

However, charities also make sure that they balance this with positive images of the people they help and show the difference that can be made.

Why do charities spend so much on advertising?


  • Charity supporters accept the need for charities to advertise as a way of raising awareness and bringing in new donors.
  • People understand the phrase 'raising awareness' and think this is an important part of charities' work.


Charities only spend money on advertising if they think it will have a clear benefit in helping their cause. Some charity advertising campaigns are about raising awareness and promoting important information, such as how to spot someone having a stroke or how to keep your heart healthy. Others are aimed at helping to find new donors, which is vital for charities to continue their work.

Why do charities use volunteers at the same time as paying big salaries to staff?


  • Charity supporters accept the need for charities to use volunteers
  • Positive language around the role of volunteers resonates with this audience, particularly as some are charity volunteers themselves
  • Acknowledging the role of individuals in what charities are able to achieve creates positivity


Volunteers often make a unique contribution – knowing a volunteer is giving up their time can make a real difference to someone a charity is helping. Volunteering for a charity is something people want to do – it’s their way of giving something back and making a difference and charities are incredibly grateful for their contribution.

But not all charities can run just with volunteers. Sometimes it’s necessary to have people who can work
full time or who have specialist expertise that charities can’t always rely on finding through volunteers.

Page last edited Sep 11, 2017

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