top of page

Unnecessary layers…

This blog is a generalisation, but one based on real-life examples. If you’re someone who works within the third sector, or a company that collaborates with it, the following may not be your experience at all. However, I think there will be a good number of readers who will readily identify with my point.

I’m suggesting that there are too many layers of management in the third sector.

Too many bodies dishing out money to other, smaller bodies, who then do the same again. This is a true example of ‘trickle down’ economics. The trouble is, by the time everyone has taken their cut, and numerous jobs have been subsidised (some of them unnecessary), there’s very little left for the people at the bottom…you know, the actual beneficiaries.

I’ve been to many funding fairs and read news stories about huge amounts of funding coming into play from one source or another. Invariably, the company tasked with apportioning the cash does no more than the next organisation they fund, which, commonly, is also tasked with finding projects/beneficiaries to support. Why the money doesn’t just bypass the middle-man is beyond me—the end results would be the same, but there’d just be more money to alleviate the issue.

diorama of economic inequality, rich vs poor wealth distribution

I know of, and I hear of, charity managers who do flip all for their wage. In fact, recently, I came across one scenario that, to me, bordered on fraud; the money mismanagement was so vast, it will surely come back to bite the individual in the bum if there’s any karma in the world.

When I’m talking about unnecessary management jobs, I don’t mean the CEOs at the top of the tree of huge household-name charities (though some would argue that they’re over-compensated for what they do—see my thoughts here); I’m talking more about the ones running local operations/organisations. If it’s a very small charity that directly works with its beneficiaries, it’s likely that the organisation will be under-resourced, and the CEO/founder will be running around like a headless chicken doing every kind of task needed. Go further up the ladder, though, to organisations that have the funds to pay staff in dedicated roles, and the CEO’s routine will look decidedly different. You could argue that they’re there to delegate, and of course their role will look different in such a scenario, but surely not to the point where they have nothing to do themselves…is that good value for money? Would a CEO, in this case, need to be full-time? Wouldn’t an active trustee board be sufficient to manage the charity’s manager/senior members of staff?

There are certainly some employees in the third sector who have landed on their feet. There’s arguably less pressure and fewer targets amongst the third sector, and though wage brackets are slightly less than those in the private sector, they’re not far away—they certainly represent a good whack for someone who spends their days doing very little to steer the organisation or impact the lives of the beneficiaries their charity supports.

The managers in larger charities—i.e. middle management—can be in charge of whole departments or programmes. A position that comes with responsibility, wouldn’t you say? Given the efficiency of frontline staff, who know their beneficiaries more than anyone else in the organisation, it’s very rare they have anything to manage. A friend of mine worked with one middle manager who spent all day with his feet up as he read the paper (I kid you not). It wasn’t just the freedom that he got to do what he liked that irked his staff, it was that he was paid double the wage of those he was meant to manage. This was more than two decades ago, but it was still a wage in line with today’s remuneration (as most wages have stalled or stagnated in the years between). No wonder he didn’t go looking for another challenge—he had it made. Another manager in the same organisation used to spend his time designing the house he was having built during working hours—which had no relation on the work the charity (and he) was meant to do. Both of these jobs were within a high profile organisation, one everyone will have heard of.

person adjusting their electronic home heating thermostat.

Legally, these guys were doing nothing wrong, and you could argue that it was the charity’s fault that it didn’t carry out its own internal due diligence—if it had, they surely wouldn’t have been able to do what they wanted. However, such non-jobs and people taking advantage within the third sector, on a moral basis, feels a bit grubby to me. It smacks of an ‘I’m alright, Jack’ attitude, that doesn’t sit well within any organisation tasked with helping some of the people most in need within our society.

I think that working in the third sector is an absolute privilege. It’s not about hiding away and drawing a wage, nor is it about taking as much money from a charity pot that you’re legally able to get away with, just because you’re feeding your ego. If either of those are elements important to you within a role, you’re in the wrong sector. The most effective employees (and volunteers) in the third sector (and there are many thousands of them) do what they do because they’re driven to make the lives better of the people around them who are in less fortunate circumstances or who are facing challenges the rest of us can only imagine.

We all need to pay our bills, but no one should be able to buy a mansion or a yacht with their third sector remuneration package….


bottom of page