OPINION: Sailing toward a period of flux and transitions

Coming from Bristol, I always wondered where the saying "ship shape and Bristol fashion" originated. Apparently it was from the reputation the port had for preparing ships for sail in good order. That is what chief executives do in each organisation and what the Charity Commission can do for the sector.

It has been a funny old week which has seen me 'betwixt and between', preparing to step down from the helm at Guide Dogs for the Blind Association and get ready to take up the position of charity commissioner. I find myself temporarily becalmed in the sea of transition - it is a tranquil place to be and a good time for reflection.

Taking stock is always important. We get little enough time to do it but we need to if the sector and we are to develop. On initial reflection, I have learned a huge amount during my time at Guide Dogs, not least the importance of respecting an organisation's history and building on its existing strengths. But in doing this, it is vital to develop a diversified funding base so that that history and those strengths can be sustained over the long term.

Achieving this is never going to be plain sailing, so strong leadership is needed while change is effected. You need to be bold and to take the initiative, to manage events rather than be controlled by them. Equally, it is important to keep things as simple as possible so that developments remain manageable over an extended period of time and so that staff, beneficiaries, members and supporters can buy into and sustain them.

You also need to 'grow your own'. By this, I mean investing in people, both to help them develop their careers and to ensure that the wealth of insight and experience which they hold is not lost.

It is not just my situation that is in a state of transition - the third sector is too. The Charity Commission can play a pivotal role in this and is itself in a state of transition. It has taken a long, hard look at itself and the new regulation guidance issued last week has an emphasis on greater transparency and a preparedness to focus its powers on where the risk is greatest. It is emerging as a regulator with teeth but which also invests in building the capacity for self-regulation among smaller charities. Exciting times lie ahead.

Geraldine Peacock, a charity commissioner and a civil service commissioner

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