OPINION: Make charities star-studded, not star struck

GERALDINE PEACOCK, chief executive of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association

I recently experienced what Andy Warhol would have called my 15 minutes of fame.

Standing in the spotlight at the Charity Awards 2002 to receive the award for outstanding achievement, I felt, for a fleeting moment, what it must be like to be a celebrity.

It is heartening to see how an event such as the Charity Awards has grown since its inception a few years ago. It is good to witness the voluntary sector "putting on the glitz", celebrating its successes and identifying its own celebrity organisations and people. It encourages the recognition of good practice, and boosts the confidence of those working for charities.

Later, sitting with my reality check cup of cocoa at home, I reflected on celebrity and its increasingly important role in the way the sector operates.

The sector now has its own "stars

who write in the mainstream press, sit on government task forces, appear on Question Time and are named in generic management and power lists. They enhance the credibility, visibility and understanding of the sector and the growing role it has in shaping society.

There is more awareness in the sector that recognition motivates staff and volunteers. This has led to an increase of nominations for honours for people who work for and support voluntary organisations. Schemes such as "employee/volunteer of the month

recognise the importance of individual contribution. Others encourage their front person, usually the chief executive or chair, to speak at conferences and seek media opportunities. If they do it well, the "celebrity

status they achieve raises the charity's profile.

Then there is also the role that stars of the media, politics and royalty play in our sector. We use these "celebs

to publicise our causes, promote our brands, raise funds and gain greater recognition from the public.

However, it's vital to keep the right balance between celebrities promoting themselves and promoting the charity. Pick your celebrity carefully, scandals may get column inches but are not good for public confidence.

Provided we stay true to our value base, recognise success and invest in our own rising stars, we can harness the power of celebrity without being too star struck.

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