Reward and humanitarianism

By Tony Hatton-Gore, Rewardhr Ltd

I have been working recently with an aid organisation. This is a long established NGO, with a cosmopolitan international staff, operating in some of the poorest and most difficult places in the world. Locations include Syria, Afghanistan and many other countries in Africa, Asia and South America.

Of course most people are motivated by reasons other than money but I am struck by the level of commitment of people who work in the aid sector. Nevertheless, there is a constant struggle to offer genuinely competitive reward, particularly for those staff in a major world city such as London with a high cost of living. 

Pay and benefits are not generous compared to some other sectors. A large element of the Employment Value Proposition is in affiliation with the organisation’s values and in making a difference to peoples' lives.  Indeed the primary accountability in this sector is to beneficiaries i.e. the people they are trying to help. Management of expectations is important so that the beneficiaries understand what the aid organisation can and cannot do.

In working at one of the organisation’s international HQs I was impressed by the high standard of policy and strategy documents and the rigour with which they have been developed. The HR strategy is explicit about how HR supports the business.

Subsequently, in conversation with the HR manager for Afghanistan, I was asking about her role in the field and was startled that the first thing she said was that the organisation's policies and procedures made her job easy. The policies work because they are clear and because they have been developed after long experience in other commissions. They enable staff in the field and at HQ to focus on their mission. Accountability is transparent.

The purpose of reward is essentially to attract, retain and motivate high quality people to help the target populations. Key words in the pay philosophy include: consistency, fairness, harmonised, transparent and competitive.  Nothing here is sector specific but the evidence is that the policies work. 

This organisation is a leading player in its field with a strategy that includes an aspiration to be a reference or benchmark for others. The learning point for me is that by ensuring HR is really focused on the mission we can make total reward count - it is not just about the money.

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  • Tony

    An excellent reward blog post making some very good points.  It is a pity that some third sector leaders seem more concerned about their pay than the ethos - or I am just being cynical?

  • Anonymous


    Thanks for an interesting post. I agree that identification with the organisation's mission is an important part of the "why" employees choose to join or stay with an NGO. I think the challenge is the extent to which that mission is able to offset things like lower pay or less generous benefits. Balancing altruism and mission with the realities of needing an adequate income is not always easy for employees or organisations.

  • Anonymous

    We have also been working with an international organisation in this sector for some time. Many people joining such organisations do so due to the cause. It is important that pay does not become a barrier to joining for those that believe in the cause. To expect anything more may be unrealistic.

  • As Ian mentions, pay is currently a hot topic in the voluntary sector, hence the NCVO inquiry into charity leaders' pay

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for all the comments – some great points that demonstrate the particular challenges in this sector.  

    I am grateful for Charles highlighting the NCVO debate (or hornet’s nest!). There is certainly a plethora of issues including, amongst others: the levels of chief executive and senior management pay, the balance between ethics and attracting talented people, the ratio of chief executive pay to other employees, low pay in the sector for the majority of employees and the escalating cost of living (particularly in London), pay awards that divert resources from the spend on charities' frontline work, suitable market comparators, the implications of performance related pay for the sector etc....

    Ian - I see you commented on the blog by the NCVO director of public policy. I like the practical approach you set out and the emphasis on the benefits of a well structured reward strategy.  It seems to me that is very difficult to cater for the wide diversity of views among stakeholders in this sector; and consequently I agree that organisations need to rigorously define the role of reward in supporting their objectives.