First person: Tycoons on tap

Greg Dyke says large numbers of wealthy people have the time and desire to help the sector. But non-profits must learn how to best make use of them.

When Brentford Football Club approached me and asked me to be its chairman, I said yes, partly because I have always been a fan, but mostly because I like the fact that at Brentford the fans own most of the club through a community trust.

However, unless it changes, Brentford, like many small clubs, won't survive.

In the past, people have pumped money in, lost it and then others have pumped more in - and so on. That kept the club alive for years, but hasn't made it a sustainable business, and when there's no new sugar daddy the club will go bust. Instead of that, I want to help build Brentford to become a sustainable, successful club in the long term, so I am helping it plan for the next five or six years. To me that's worthwhile.

As a business person, you need to be really clear about your role and what you want to achieve if you get involved in a not-for-profit enterprise.

Don't rely on the charity to tell you, because all too often, when it approaches you, it doesn't know what it wants or what you can actually deliver.

Charities can be blinkered about what they think business people can do for them, imagining they will bring money or contacts to the table.

Sometimes they do, but often they don't. What they can bring, however, are skills, expertise and leadership. These can be far more valuable - provided, of course, that the organisation knows how to use them and what to do with them.

Outsiders coming into a not-for-profit organisation, particularly at my level, don't want to get involved in the day-to-day business. We don't want to run the place - that's what the chief executive is for. At my age, I don't want to be reorganising office structures - I want to be influencing an organisation's strategic direction. I want to be asking the tough questions that all organisations, especially charities, often shy away from: what are we doing? Why are we here? Why do we exist? It seems to me that not enough charities ask these questions. They don't try to find out why there are a number of charities with the same remit fighting each other for funds. It is as if they think their existence alone will help the problem. Perhaps they should look at mergers rather than concentrate on sustaining themselves.

There is a great opportunity for charities to attract business people.

There are many out there who, like me, have reached a certain stage in life, have made some money and recognise there is still a lot they can do.

The most profound thing anyone has said to me about age is that when they think about being 60 today, they should think of what their mother or father was like at 50. Put simply, people now live longer and are more active.

We are a one-off generation. We have good pensions, we have time, energy and experience and at least 10 to 15 years of active work left in us.

The days of being 60 and sitting around waiting to die are long gone.

People now want to carry on working and give something back. It is a demographic opportunity that PrimeTimers, another organisation I'm involved with, has jumped on. It is a social enterprise that links not-for-profit organisations and mid-to-late career business people, matching skills and talent to need.

I think the idea behind PrimeTimers is very interesting and its work, which also involves career mentoring and developing networks, addresses one of the other major difficulties faced by business people getting involved in charities: the issue of fit.

Top business people are used to having support systems around them. If they want something done, they tell someone to do it. You don't find that in the not-for-profit sector. For people coming in it can be a shock when there is no one there to pass the paper on to. Remember, big hitters don't expect to do the grunt work - they haven't done it for years, and they won't start again now.

Not-for-profit bodies really need to understand what it is they want.

People are not magicians, so organisations need to be realistic and clear about what exactly it is they are expecting them to achieve.

As for me, I want to continue working with organisations that are not afraid to challenge themselves, where I can use my skills, values and experience to do what I am passionate about - that is, to motivate people, to enable them to take decisions and to make things happen for themselves.

Greg Dyke is the keynote speaker at PrimeTimers' conference, Compete or Co-operate, at London South Bank University tomorrow (e-mail conference@primetimers. org.uk). He is also chair of Brentford FC, which is now majority owned by its supporters' trust - one of football's growing number of social enterprises.

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