Charity executives hit back, claiming that their pay reflected the “enormous responsibility” of a position that requires “real leadership, experience, knowledge and skill”.
Mr Shawcross spoke out as it was reported that the number of executives at charities connected to the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) receiving salaries of £100,000 or more has increased from 19 to 30 over the past three years.
The charities involved with DEC include Action Aid, Age International, British Red Cross, CAFOD, Care International, Christian Aid, Concern Worldwide, Islamic Relief, Merlin, Oxfam, Plan UK, Save the Children, Tearfund and World Vision.
Mr Shawcross said: “It is not for the commission to tell charities how much they should pay their executives. That is a matter for their trustees.
“However, in these difficult times, when many charities are experiencing shortfalls, trustees should consider whether very high salaries are really appropriate, and fair to both the donors and the taxpayers who fund charities.
“Disproportionate salaries risk bringing organisations and the wider charitable world into disrepute.”
Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive of charity leaders organisation Acevo, said the intervention by Mr Shawcross was “deeply unhelpful”.
The average salary for a charity chief executive was £58,000, he said, and added: “The big national and international charities are very demanding jobs and we need to attract the best talent to those jobs and that’s what we do.”
British Red Cross said the salary of its chief executive is “far from a secret”, adding that it was “fully committed to transparency and accountability”.
The charity’s chief executive, Sir Nicholas Young is paid £184,000.
In a statement, the charity said: “The salary of our chief executive – which is set by the board of trustees, and benchmarked against, and competitive with, other non-profit organisations of similar complexity including other charities and local authorities – reflects the enormous responsibility the position carries.”
In the financial year 2012-13, Oxfam said its chief executive was paid £119,560.
Mark Goldring was appointed chief executive of Oxfam in January of this year.
Dame Barbara Stocking, Oxfam’s former chief executive, said she took a 30 per cent pay cut from her NHS job to take up the post with the charity.
Christian Aid, which paid its chief executive Loretta Minghella £126,206 for 2012-13, said: “Staff must reflect a large variety of abilities and disciplines” for the organisation to run successfully.
Labour Shadow cabinet office minister Gareth Thomas warned that the public would want to see value for money.
He said: “Britain’s charities do great work.
“The vast majority rely on donations from hard-pressed members of the public to make that work happen, so it’s vital that value for money is at the heart of everything the voluntary sector does.”