Parting Shot: Heather Wood

The outgoing chief executive of Rainbow Trust believes the essential role of charities is now far better understood than when she started in the sector

Heather Wood
Heather Wood

I started at the charity as its second employee in 1988. At that time our "office" was charity founder Bernadette Cleary's kitchen table and we were supporting just a handful of families with life-threatened or terminally ill children. Back then, the need for children's palliative care services was only just being recognised and we were at the forefront, shaping the specialist support families needed.

As I retire after 17 years as chief executive, Rainbow Trust helps more than 2,000 families. It's been an incredible journey, though not always smooth or trouble-free, and I have seen the charity sector change dramatically. When I started out, charities weren't run as professionally as they are today and there was less accountability. It seems obvious to say that a charity needs to be run with clear strategic direction, but 29 years ago organisations could be complacent, relying on single income streams and lacking business focus.

Charities are far more competitive now, which has made regulation and legislation increasingly important. Public trust in charities might have wavered considerably, but I have found that the essential role of charities is now far better understood by every part of society. People understand that charities are not just a helpful accessory, but are vital providers of services that would not otherwise exist.

My hope is that charities don't continue to be judged against the performance of the largest players. It's time the smaller organisations took the spotlight - despite fewer resources and more budget constraints. Smaller in size doesn't mean less professional or impactful. Some of them are already stars and more will take centre stage in the future.

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