Monday, February 14, 2011


Feb 14, 2011

If you pay peanuts, you get...

MR VICTOR Looi's letter ('Avoid paying big salaries to hire charity leaders'; last Friday) raises the issue of what really constitutes hefty pay.

Having served as a volunteer of local charity Make-A-Wish Singapore since its inception and board chairman since 2007, and being a past chairman of Make-A-Wish Foundation International, I have been involved in many discussions on this issue of CEO remuneration and benefits.

The argument that charity leaders should not be motivated by financial benefits is a lofty ideal, but is it realistic in today's society, and what is fair and reasonable compensation?

Let us look at the principal duties and responsibilities of a charity chief executive:
  • Ensure that the charity mission is carried out well and meets the needs of its beneficiaries;

  • Ensure the highest standards of governance within the organisation, so as to comply with the strict code of governance for charities;

  • Initiate and implement fund-raising and financial stewardship programmes so that there are sufficient funds;

  • Inspire and organise volunteers;

  • Maintain relations with the community and media; and

  • Manage office staff, oversee human resource policies and serve as a link between board members and office staff.
Such a multi-faceted and multi-tasking individual, with great many responsibilities, also needs to have the warm, engaging personality expected of a charity leader.

Such a person is not easily found, even in the highest echelons of for-profit organisations or multinational corporations.

A recent survey of CEO compensation for 2008-2009 by ASAE - The Centre for Association Leadership, an organisation representing more than 11,000 trade associations and voluntary organisations in 50 countries, indicated that for an organisation with an annual budget of US$1 million (S$1.3million) to US$2.5 million, the average annual salary for CEOs is between US$134,000 and US$154,000.

Is this applicable as a benchmark for Singapore? For a First World country, with a cost of living, gross domestic product and property prices among the highest in Asia, these figures are surely something for us to ponder.

Furthermore, if we apply the same argument that ministers, who give up lucrative careers in the private sector for the higher calling of serving the nation, should be fairly and reasonably compensated for their sacrifice, then we need to change our mindset about the salaries of our charity leaders.

As the oft-repeated saying goes: 'If you pay peanuts, you get...'

Dr Keith Goh

Online comments

Paying peanuts you get monkeys do carry some weight however, what assurances has the public got (don't forget the NKF Saga), despite all the governance in place the CEO still manages to get away for some time?If $$$$$ issue is a key factor, I would appeal the "gorillas" to stay out of it as to be involved in charity starts off with CHARITY above everything else.
Posted by: yklim008 at Mon Feb 14 15:05:01 SGT 2011

i don't ask for a lot when i know i'm performing charity, just a token, and even that may seem like a lot to the poor. it's my way of giving back. but i have little sympathy shall we say, when i'm dealing with someone who can afford to pay. they don't need my charity. they're looking for an experience and i deliver just that.
Posted by: unewolke at Mon Feb 14 14:14:27 SGT 2011

i see that people are motivated by money/greed, some more so than others. that is fine, but don't work in a charity if you don't want to give more than take. i've been on both sides - earning a little or a lot based on the same skill sets.
Posted by: unewolke at Mon Feb 14 14:13:37 SGT 2011

[Social workers also have family commitments and bills to pay. They may have the aptitude to work with disadvantaged people, but they also need to be properly compensated for their time and their education. The problem is that most people seem to think that Charity work is volunteer work. Yes. There are volunteers, but when the problem is dealing with family issues, financial problems, gambling, drinking, addiction, unemployment, discipline, delinquency, parenting and other complex socio-psychological issues, volunteers are out of their depth. You need social workers trained and resourced to help these individuals and their families with their specific problems.

And these social workers need to be paid adequately.

And the administrators and executives who help and support these social workers may have good intentions, but they also bills to pay and a family to feed. Helping the poor does not mean they have to be as poor as the people they help.

If we continue to pay them pittance, they we attract the low talent, no-talent, and failures. They have limited competence and they cannot make the charity strong and viable. And the charity fails. Look at the social work charities. Most of them are poorly run. Many are living from hand to mouth, disaster and failure just one donation away. And social workers are making sacrifices in terms of salaries. They can continue for some time, but eventually, they will burn out, or decide that they need to look after themselves and they leave the sector taking with them a wealth of experience. And the social sector is poorer for the loss of these experienced social workers.]

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