OPINION: A bright future lies ahead but let's go steady

Geraldine Peacock, a charity commissioner and a civil service commissioner

Huddled around a wood-burning stove in the Lake District this Christmas, I began to think ahead, with the usual mixture of apprehension and anticipation, to what 2004 might bring.

The anticipation reminded me of Elwyn Brooks White who, in topical mode, compared the future to a mince pie: "No unified dream... but long in the baking, never quite done". The apprehension, meanwhile, brought to mind Edward Young's comment that "Tomorrow is a satire on today, and shows its weaknesses." Both have a valid point, but the old adage, "People always find it easier to be a result of the past rather than a cause of the future", is more accurate.

But before you become tired of quotations, the point I am making is that 2004 has the potential to be a really significant year for the not-for-profit sector, heralding what is essentially a new era.

On the horizon there is the new draft Charities Bill; increasing trends towards not-for-profit activity in a range of new forms; Futurebuilders, which, alongside the growth of Community Development Finance Initiatives and a rapidly increasing number of other social investment programmes, has the potential to shift the culture of not-for-profit activity from dependency to enterprise. And Guidestar will launch, together with a greater focus on intelligent regulation that promises better accountability and renewed public trust. Importantly, too, political parties across the board acknowledge the essential contribution that not-for-profit activity makes and the sector is increasingly part of policy making, as well as service delivery.

So it's going to be a good year, and one which represents our rich diversity.

But I hope the sector will resolve to take well-assessed risks that assume trust, and that it resists the rush to the finishing line, remembering that slow and steady wins the race.

My wish? That a new term is coined for "not-for-profit" activity. Not only is it inaccurate (we need to make and reinvest profit to be sustainable) but it's negative! I've heard 'more than profit' and 'profit-plus' so far, but they don't quite hit the spot. I'll buy dinner for whoever comes up with the best, most usable suggestion. And, of course, you could earn your place in the sector's history!

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