Angela Kerins is getting a rough time, isn't she?
Every once in a while certain newspapers and social media kick off condemning the Rehab CEO's salary. The criticisms are based on her salary being deemed too high for a charity, and out of control for an organisation that is partly funded by the State.
I always take great interest in this recycled story because I think it highlights some of the hypocrisy the charity sector experiences every day and it reaffirms for me that charities are in trouble.
Now, Angela Kerins is an impressive person. She started her career as a midwife and worked her way in to the position of CEO at the multinational Rehab, as well as sitting on boards such as the Equality Authority, the National Learning Network, the National Disability Authority, and the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland. She commands an impressive fee, she works hard and she is powerful. Whatever you think about her policies and politics I hope you will agree that it is positive to see an Irish female hold these positions. Remember, Ireland is still a country where women's earnings are not yet comparable to men's, and the level of women in managerial positions still pales in comparison to many countries.
But let's look at some of the figures being thrown around:
Ms Kerins is primarily criticised for earning €234,000 from her role as CEO of Rehab. But I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that isn't a whole lot of money. Remember Rehab employs over 3,300 people internationally - this is a seriously big organisation with Ms Kerins shouldering a lot of responsibility. Compare this to the 'private' sector: A simple search for similar size companies brought me to XL Group, a private company employing a similar number of people. The CEOs pay? Approximately €7.5 million annually. That is some difference. But because Rehab is a 'charity' a salary at even a fraction of this is considered too high.
But what should she be on then? The people who usually pipe up to complain about charity wages usually cite €100,000 as the cut-off - anything beyond that is unnecessarily high. This doesn't make sense to me for a number of reasons, but even on a practical level you have to acknowledge that a manager needs to earn more than her subordinates. An organisation of the size of Rehab is probably going to have at least 8 levels...that doesn't leave much room to go down. Or maybe it does? What's your suggestion?
Now, let me be clear here...I do not condone a €200k salary or a €7.5 million salary. Frankly, the sooner we get rid of money altogether the better. I'm fine with that, but it's not going to happen anytime soon. My point is that if we're going to allow something in the private sector we need to allow it in the charity sector or we're just going to end of strangling and destroying it.
The most recent media coverage on the subject was lead by Cormac McQuinn who ran four articles on the subject over two days. These were pure entertainment.
The article derided Ms Kerins for driving an Audi. I can't really argue this - if someone cuts me up in traffic they're generally driving an Audi. But if you're implying that she is doing something wrong by spending money on this car, which starts at €40,395, then I'm going to take exception to that. For a start I bought a brand new Kia Sportage last year - pricey enough, and potentially frowned upon since I work in the charity sector. But hey, I bought it with the inheritance I got when my Dad died. Incidentally, he was a banker.
I know what you're thinking - the organisation pays for this car. But remember Ms Kerins pays BIK on it. And it's part of her package, so if you're not going to give her a car you're just going to end up paying her more cash.
So let's not be so quick to judge. In addition, I don't spend my money on drink or drugs or cigarettes or clothes or jewellery or any of the other vices that I think are pointless. I spend my money on signed first edition books and ridiculous Kickstarter projects and getting an extension and all sorts of other stuff that you probably think is pointless. Each to their own.
The other flippant remark was that Ms Kerins lives in a leafy suburb. I live in a leafy suburb too: East Wall. Cleaning up leaves wrecks my head. Someone got shot there a few years ago.
The other laughable element was the sub-headline 'Disaster' dropped casually in to the article as if to give a real sinister undertone. The full quote, which they plucked this word from, was "More than 12 causes benefited in areas such as disaster relief, disability and suicide prevention." A bit misleading, isn't it?
As I write this the 'scandal' is beginning to get picked up and piggybacked by politicians. Senator Fidelma Healy Eames issued a press release suggesting Ms Kerins and the Board of Rehab be summoned before the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee to justify this salary. Given what we know about the salary compared to other organisations of a comparable size I think this would be an embarrassing exercise. But sure, yeh let's get them in and see what happens.
The good Senator goes on to point out that "20 disabled people" were made redundant this year and that the State gives Rehab €36 million per year.
What the press release omits is that Rehab also announced they're creating 400 jobs in Ireland over the next 3 years. It also fails to mention that Rehab's turnover is nearly €200 million, the majority of which came from private fundraising and commercial ventures. The State contribute to the organisation because they provide such massive employment and amazing services to the community - services the government are unable to provide. In the process of this they, and Ms Kerins, pay huge amounts of tax which go towards paying for my healthcare, my roads, my community centre and more. If you cut this funding then Rehab cuts it services and the government are forced to step in and replace their services - probably less efficiently.
This all just strikes me as another case where a politicians 'outrage' is dealt with by issuing press releases and calling radio stations as opposed to attempting to engage with the people involved to understand and address the situation. It's easy to criticise and lash out at something without investigating the facts. Senator Healy Eames was a victim of this recently with the 'train fare scandal'. It's not fair. It's lazy churnalism. Let's stop doing that.
On a side note, here's details of what Irish Senators and other policiticans are entitled to: http://namawinelake.wordpress.com/2012/02/18/how-much-do-irish-politicians-get-paid-part-1-of-2/
I was engaged with another charity who expressed their sadness at her salary as their own overall income was less than this. But let's remember that this is a much smaller charity who employ 4 people, compared to 3300 people in Rehab.
I wanted to compare the two organisations' finances further, but the smaller charity doesn't make their numbers public and there are no finances or accounts published on their website. And it struck me that Rehab are being penalised for being more transparent, which is a sad, sad thing. This is the problem, and this is why I hate the concept of admin costs and why more charities need to be more transparent.
When you weigh this all up I find it hard to find fault with Rehab or Angela Kerins. The truth is that the argument simply falls back on the perception that charities should not pay their staff a comparable amount to the private sector. But I don't buy that. Instead, it all boils down to this word 'charity' which holds back an amazing organisation like Rehab. We find ourselves wasting newspaper space, our politicians' time and our own time writing and reading stupid blogs.
But I've said it before and I'll say it again: Charity is the fairest tax there is. You choose whether you donate or not, you choose how much and you choose who benefits. If you don't agree with how an organisation is run then don't contribute or stipulate exactly what area your donation is spent on. But we need to spend money on salaries. We need to invest in the people who run these amazing organisations. We have to invest in these charities.
If I told you Rehab was a Social Enterprise and not a Charity would that change things? Yes, I think it would.
You would have a successful Social Enterprise that employs 3,300+ people (many with disabilities), that is profitable even in times of recession, that is growing and providing more jobs in Ireland at a time when we badly need it. You would have Angela Kerins, a successful Irish business woman who is willing to work well for a salary well below the industry standard because what she is doing is good. She offers her time to many boards and bodies and donates her fees back to worthwhile causes. She would be applauded.
And the charities of the world?
Well, they would be extinct.