Profiting from misery

You probably think of the British Heart Foundation as a caring, selfless charity, committed to the plight of heart disease sufferers. But the reality is far different. The whole operation resembles that of a FTSE 100 company more than a non-profit organisation, from their executive pay at the top, right down to the targets culture and the way they treat those at the bottom of their organisation, and not to mention their volunteers that they treat as little more than slave labour.

To be the second biggest charity you first have to establish brand recognition. Walk down your local high street. Which shop has the biggest, boldest writing above their shop? The British Heart Foundation, of course. It's no coincidence. There's no mistake: they want you to be the first thing you think of when shopping, taking part in a fun run or even making a will. They're fighting for every heartbeat, don't you know?


Their grand head office is in in Camden, north London, an area of prime real estate. Stand outside the big art deco building that they share with fashion giant Asos, multinational advertising agency WPP, cosmetics giant Revlon and payday loan sharks Wonga. A glance at the giant cat statues guarding the entrance, you don't get the impression that achieving value for money is high on their list of priorities. 

And you'd be right, because only 44% of the amount of the £300million the British Heart Foundation raised last year was spent on actually on actually trying to achieve their charitable aims. The rest is spent on wages, rents, pensions, and endless other overheads. A far cry from the figure of 77% used in their annual report (a figure achieved by only counting the meagre net profit from their shops and not the huge costs associated with them), and even further from the nonsensical 100% used on their donation bins. The further away you get the unsuspecting public, the closer you get to the actual truth. It's almost as though they're trying to hide something.

But, it's unlikely that those working at head office care. And why would they? From their plush offices they can expect to earn good money: with more than one in ten of their head office and regional staff earning over £60,000 per year - that's over double the national average. And the number of staff on these high wages is rising year on year. Add in perks like subsidised gym membership, generous holidays, and, in an insult to those less fortunate than themselves (like - you know - people living with chronic heart disease) private health care, it's a very attractive career. 


"Who heads up this organisation?", I hear you cry. Logic would dictate that it's a doctor, a surgeon, a scientist or even a heart attack survivor. Someone with intimate knowledge of heart disease. But you're nowhere near. The man at the top (earning a shade over £170,000 per year) is a man called Simon Gillespie, pictured above. He cut his teeth in the Navy (so knows about killing innocent beings) before moving on to the Ministry of Defence and becoming policy wonk to the government (presumably to advise how to kill innocent beings most efficiently). He finally entered the charitable sector in 2006, joining fellow vivisectors the Multiple Sclerosis Society after stints at the Charity Commission and the Healthcare Commission. You can almost hear the doors revolving.

The rest of the executive group fare little better: the web page reads like who's who of the corporate, vivisection and NGO world: Top Shop, Budgens, Waterstones, HMV, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Cancer Research UK, Meningitis Trust, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, the British Lung Foundation, the AMRC, the National Trust, and Action on Smoking and Health to name just a few. 

What about the board of trustees, surely they're headed up by a doctor or scientist? Nope, wrong again! It's Douglas Gurr: whose day job is heading up Amazon UK: a company that needs no introduction to the way they treat their workers. Previously he worked at Asda (Walmart) and management consultants McKinsey & CompanyWe can only assume he took up the position at BHF to either assuage his guilt, boost his ego or make himself look more charitable on his CV. Only half of his fellow board members are from the medical profession.

Nice work if you can get it. But move down a little down the BHF food chain and into their shops, and things become rather different: sales assistants (shop floor staff) are paid £7.50 per hour - the minimum required by law. A store manager can expect to earn £15,000-£20,000. Assistant manager salaries are often just under £15,000. London weighting? Fat chance. And unsurprisingly, what's good for the goose isn't good for the gander: gone are the nice holiday allowances, the gym membership and the private healthcare. You can't afford to take time off sick anyway: there are targets to meet, and it's not as though they have a steady stream of free labour in the form of volunteers, is it?


It's not hard to find disgruntled staff: just look at the reviews on Glassdoor like the one above, you will find a litany of disillusioned staff and volunteers: accusations of bullying are rife, people feel undervalued, and targets are the name of the game. There is also an accusation of Gift Aid fraud which we cannot comment on, suffice to say that it is very serious.

If you are looking for substantiated accusations you don't have to look far: in December 2016 they were fined £18,000 by the Information Commissioner for sharing data on the wealthiest donors with other charities, in a flagrant breach of the Data Protection Act. And when donors chose to opt-out of providing contact information, the BHF just hired a company to figure out their address or phone number was theirs based on other information they had - so they could be harassed for even more. The BHF just couldn't help themselves. 

So, we've established that they're not good for humans and they're certainly not good for animals. They put their wallet and their interests first. So what are they good for? It seems that their only purpose is to carry on existing, and the money rolling in, in order to keep the whole money making machine ticking over.