British Media Cheesed Off Over Queen’s Commonwealth Trust Salaries
British Media Cheesed Off Over Queen’s Commonwealth Trust Salaries

The British news industry has been trumpeting a story about excessive salaries at the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust (QCT), a London-based charity that aids youth-focused projects throughout 54 nations, most of which were formerly part of the British Empire. But are the numbers as garish as the Fleet Street press would have them?

The Daily Mail ran the headline “Revealed: Royal charity that partnered with Prince Harry’s life coaching firm spent 98% of £796,000 [a little under $1.1 million as of the third week in February 2022] cash it raised in one year on paying just TEN staff”. A subhead added Over half of the cash went to five most senior executives who earned £420,000 [$571,000]”.

Regarding the “partnered with Prince Harry’s life coaching firm” line: Prince Harry is chief impact officer for BetterUp, a San Francisco-based firm that offers coaching services for individuals as well as corporations. Before stepping away from his royal family obligations, Prince Harry had held offices with the QCT. But BetterUp is not mentioned in any of the three most recent financial statements from QCT. A page on the QCT’s website does acknowledge BetterUp’s support, as well as Prince Harry’s former and current roles.

As for the QCT’s financial statements: For the 12 months ended March 31, 2021 – the period covered by the organization’s annual report that created the kerfuffle – QCT generated £796,106 [$1,079,480] in donations, grants and interest and investment income. That’s down a tick from £796,756 [$1,080,361] during the previous year.

In the more recent year, the organization reported 10 positions (down from 13 the previous year), but given a mixture of full- and part-time workers there was an average monthly full-time equivalent of 12 workers, up from 11 a year earlier. Between wages and salaries, redundancy and termination costs, social security costs and pensions QCT spent £787,314 [$1,067,558] on staff, which is right at the 98%-99% level. It’s also an average of less than $100,000 per position.

“The figures spent on salaries raises serious questions over how much emphasis the organisation [sic], with the Queen as patron, puts on charitable endeavours [sic],” the Daily Mail harrumphed. 

The QCT addressed this in a post on its website. “During the last financial year the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust’s (QCT’s) total spend was £1.528million, of which over 80% was on charitable activities. [emphasis by the QCT]

Current chief executive Chris Kelly, who stepped into his role in April 2021, after the period covered by the report, is earning around half of the chief executive salary cited by the Daily Mail – around £70,000, or roughly $94,000, according to the QCT statement.

The year covered by the annual report (again, for the 12 months ended March 31, 2021) includes the first full year of the coronavirus pandemic in the United Kingdom. Within that time, the QCT issued £415,992 [$561,064] in disbursements, a 22% jump from the £340,867 [$462,199] it released during the 12 months ended March 31, 2020. The QCT increased its total expenditures on charitable activities for the year, to £1,223,948 [$1,664,569] from £1,189,301[$1,617,449].

During that time, the QCT also held the line on salaries and audit fees, and actually slashed general office administration expenses by 23%, from £167,481 [$227,096] at the end of March 31, 2020 to £128,801 [$174,648] for the most recent year.

The QCT did increase spending on fundraising, with this line item jumping from £259,600 [$352,005] during the year ended March 31, 2020 to £304,084 [$412.323]. Despite this, the organization took a hit in cash donations, which dropped from £469,664 [$636,841] to £297,847 [$403,866], although contributions of goods and services rose from £102,636 [$139,169] to £146,209 [$198,252].

“Where QCT’s income fundraised (sic] in the year is below budgeted expenditure, these expenditure requirements have been met through drawing down on the one-off grant QCT received from the Queen’s Trust in 2019,” the statement on the QCT website continued. “This grant is supporting QCT, as intended, as the charity develops its own philanthropic programme. QCT continues to draw down on these funds to supplement its own fundraising in support of its charitable purpose.”

During the year ended March 31, 2019, QCT realized £3,645,747 [$4,943,451] in donations and £2,767,429 [$3,752,495] in net income, figures boosted by a one-off gift from the Queen’s Trust in March 2019 of £2,672,287 [$3,626,199].

During that year, total donations were £3,645,747 [$4,943,451], with an additional £3,792 [$5,142] in interest income added to the mix. QCT reported £175,776 [$238,343] for the cost of raising funds that year, and spent an additional £706,334 [$957,754] on charitable activities. The year was highlighted by several changes for the organization, including moving from Buckingham Palace to an outside office and taking on new staff.

If headline writers really want something to get caught up in, they might look at the line for “Total Charity Funds” – or, as folks on this side of the pond might put it, cash reserves. For the year ended March 31, 2019, this stood at £4,088,219 [$5,543,421 at 2022’s exchange rate], dropping to £3,294,868 [$4,467,676] as of March 31, 2020 and falling further to £2,765,964 [$3,750,509] as of March 31, 2021. Given that this cash-on-hand figure reflects only the first months of the coronavirus pandemic, after which distributions hopefully rose no matter what happened with donations, the next screaming banner may reflect a far juicier story.