OPINION: When to relinquish the reins

PETER STANFORD, a writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards

Part of my on-going role as a past chairman is to be a walking, talking archive who remembers everything. So when the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund called this week and asked our new chief executive for the names of any young people our late royal patron met on her various visits to Aspire, he naturally referred them to me. Not for my youth, alas, but for my memory.

Most of the time, it feels pretty comfortable representing what I believe is a vital thread of continuity in an organisation that has grown so fast that it is can risk forgetting its roots, but there is always looming large in my mind the shadow of "founder member syndrome".

It's there when, at trustees' meetings, I catch, between my tongue and my teeth, the words "well, we tried that once before in 1066 and it didn't work". In my case, of course, it would be founder-member-but-one syndrome as I was the second generation, but too many charities, I know from heartbreakingly awful personal experience, suffer prolonged bouts of in-fighting because the visionaries who fashioned the whole affair do not know when to let go. When these individuals hold voluntary positions, like that of trustee, it can be impossible to shoe-horn them out in time to leave a legacy of happy memories.

Some trust deeds specify a period in office for trustees, and if they don't they should out of kindness for all concerned. But it is nevertheless a brave young buck who raises the matter and confronts the former chairman or founding spirit with the harsh reality that its time to bow out, that they are an obstacle to progress.

Perhaps all trust deeds should make it an opt-in rather than an opt-out.

If you want to stay in office after a set period, there has to be a new invitation from your colleagues. Most of all, though, the onus has to be on us to reflect carefully on whether we are still an asset because, without wanting to sound corny, the cause is so much more important than any individual sensibility and we forget that at our peril.

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