Agony: Peter Cardy prefers part-timers

Our columnist also advises on bosses from business and disengaged boards

Peter Cardy
Peter Cardy

Q. I am the information officer at a small cancer charity. My partner and I both work three days a week in different organisations. The salary we forgo is worth it for the time we all have together. But as my charity grows, the pressure is also growing on me to move to four days a week or even full-time. There seem to be more meetings on the days I'm not in, and lots of jokey remarks (with a bit of an edge) about part-time work being one long holiday. How should I respond?

A. How quaintly 1960s! In several decades of working with part-timers, I found that nearly all of them delivered a lot more than the minimum. In one organisation, most staff were part-time and we performed better as a result. You have legal protection, but an honest conversation might clear the air.

Q. Ever since this charity was founded, it has struggled financially. The chief executive recently left at short notice and, after a long delay, the headhunters are advertising for someone with a senior business background whose job will be mainly about fundraising and sponsorship, but who won't have much to do with the services that we run. Should I be worried?

A. I could retire in comfort if I had a month's pay every time I've seen these two basic errors. First: it is very difficult to make the transition from business to a small charity. The road is littered with the corpses of business people who thought they'd give something back, leave the rat race, downsize or fix their guilt. Very few make it, and their short journey often creates a nasty mess. Second: the job of chief executive is not the same as a fundraiser. The chief needs to face towards supporters and the public, clients and staff, and support fundraising. But above all, s/he must be in charge of the operation. When something goes wrong, the chief executive is in the dock on behalf of the charity: "I didn't know what went on" won't be a defence.

Q. I have worked for several non-profit organisations and always enjoyed the relationship with boards, acting as wise advisers, sounding boards, squarers of stroppy members and reporters on grass-roots opinion. My new organisation is financially comfortable and has a board of business people, but they are so disengaged: I reckon if I said we must all paint our backsides purple they would line up with their pants round their ankles. What should I do?

A. It sounds like non-profit heaven, but in fact it's a precarious situation, so tread carefully. A board that is so disengaged can be triggered into frantic action by factors you can't anticipate, and you can go from hero to zero overnight. Invest time with the chair and vice-chair, even if you have to chase them round the country. Put everything in writing to the whole board - no side-deals with slightly more interested members. Record decisions meticulously, even if it's "yeah, yeah, whatever". It's not about watching your backside, be it purple or any other colour, but ensuring that the board shoulders its responsibilities.

Q. What do you think is the right size for a trustee board? We have a board of more than 20, which seems to me, the new chair, to be at least twice as big as it should be.

A. I don't believe there is a magic number, and assertions that the right number is six or eight or 10 are tosh. The two most effective boards I worked with had six and 26 trustees respectively. If the business demands speed and focus, go small; if it is broad, strategic and needs to encompass many opinions, big can be beautiful. And a membership organisation might need to show that non-expert members can be trustees, consumer experience is brought to bear and the board isn't just a clique.

Sector veteran Peter Cardy offers answers to your workplace dilemmas. Contact him at

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