Opinion: Less is not more in our case

In his brutal satire on the follies of English and US society in the 1880s, Mark Twain says "a man is only at his best morally when he is equipped with the religious garment whose colour and shape and size most nicely accommodate themselves to the spiritual complexion, angularities, and stature of the individual who wears it".

Likewise we choose the charity that best fits our needs and beliefs.

The debate about whether there are too many of them rolls on (not least in Third Sector) as it has done for the past 40 years, and will for the next 40. But the problem is not of too many charities - it is of too few, unevenly distributed. This is true even in the cancer sector, where a search will throw up as many as 840, but only one solely concerned with the biggest and most prevalent killer, lung cancer. Founding a charity depends on motivation and social resources, so the very sick, the rejected and the impoverished have a thin time. The wheel is often reinvented at some cost in resources and learning, but few of these will become the giants of tomorrow.

It often suits donors and public figures to call for mergers in the name of reducing confusion and cost - though I haven't heard many parallel calls for all retailers to be merged with Wal-Mart. But the very motivation that leads to a charity's foundation makes its ablation difficult. Trustees, whose eponymous task is to safeguard the trusts of a charity, should maintain an instinctive aversion to mergers, which are as costly and turbulent between charities as between plcs.

Instead, we coagulate. We form coalitions, alliances, co-ordinating committees, liaison groups, and we present the attractive face of collaboration to the world. The most famous of these right now is the Disasters Emergency Committee, but there are hundreds more. Some claim there are too many, that they can't tell their LMCA from their PCCA or their Acevo from their NCVO.

Tosh, I say. These trade bodies are essential to smoothing out some of the irregularities in their sector and in their very fluidity is their efficiency - no charity has to join, and many don't. Besides, this is where some of the struggle that takes place in boardroom takeovers is fought out in the classic charitable way: the competition for message, profile, influence and resources. We need these bodies, and more of them will be created. We work in a society and sector of increasing complexity, which needs machinery of comparable sophistication.

Peter Cardy is chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Relief

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