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Should Charity Chairs and Trustees be paid? - The pay and time paradox

Should all Charity Chair’s / Trustees be paid? 

I was recently asked my opinion on this very point in a meeting to discuss a new Chair role. My personal opinion is now that there is a very strong case for this to be at least considered or debated more openly.

Before people immediately jump to the horrified conclusion that this would be against the ethos of Charities and seems “all wrong.” here are some things to weigh up on both sides of the argument


  • The brutal truth having recruited for multiple Trustees and Chairs in the last few years is that there is almost an unwritten rule that the time estimated to fulfill the duties of a chair and indeed Trustees is nowhere near the reality. Not even close! Experienced Chairs know the “game”  and will often commit to the cause because they are passionate and want to make a difference, knowing what they are signing up to….
  • Can this be helpful in any way? Although they may know the time commitment will generally be more than stated, it could easily be the catalyst for problems in the future. The board may have unrealistic expectations of the time to be given by a Chair and indeed the Chicken and Egg here is that the reason people generally become Chairs is that they are already successful people and have a busy “portfolio” 
  • I can tell you from personal experience that the chance of finding many people that can commit the time pro bono is becoming harder with every assignment as they weigh up priorities of time and finances. I fully accept that some Chairs / Trustees are in a very nice position to give the time and not worry about any form of compensation. Again this is a great source of candidates for Charities , but it doesn’t often give much chance for diversity or for the recruiter (for example) to be able to think “outside the box” and to challenge the established thinking of shortlists for Chair and Trustee roles.
  • Why would being paid make any difference? The key here is that highly successful people would be in a position to perhaps look at Chair positions across both the Commercial and Not for Profit sectors. I am certain that there are some exceptional Chairs /Trustees that would love to offer their skills to Charities - if only they could make it work and like it or not, the money question does / could come in to it.
  • The money doesn’t change the time commitment at all, but it is potentially a fair “trade” for the time given and may allow people to take a more balanced view of what to have in their own NED portfolio. I am certain that this would allow the Charity sector access to a much broader choice of candidate and maybe shake up the potential “status quo” we can often see
  • There are also some economic factors to consider in the long term. If a Chair particularly takes on the duties and is soon overwhelmed by the workload, there is a strong chance of “burn out” , which will be damaging to all concerned . This could lead to Chairs stepping down much earlier than anticipated. This could lead to an unsettled board and another earlier than anticipated and costly recruitment campaign. Again -why would pay change anything? It may not of course, but it might mean that individuals will commit to the role and see difficult periods through. I am very aware that this will be an uncomfortable and contentious argument , but it is something that is worth thinking about……..
  • The last point is that Charities like all companies are increasingly having to think like businesses and it is important that they are able to feel they can attract the best candidates for the roles at Board level, not just the only candidates who have the time at that given moment (an ever decreasing shortlist circle for a headhunter!) Again , payment is not the immediate panacea to this , but there is no doubt that it will allow charities to be able to compete for an ever smaller “talent pool”

Maybe this a debate that needs to come out of the shadows more openly to make sure that people understand the ever more pressurised and time consuming nature of being a successful Charity, large or small.  I will not go anywhere near the next line of debate of how much should / could a Chair /Trustee be paid…. Maybe the next article…..

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