Peter Cardy: Career advice for minister Rob Wilson

Plus: Charities in a corporate world, the status of political think tanks and tussles in the boardroom

Q. Rob Wilson has been charities minister for nearly 18 months. Do you think he is doing a good job?

A. No, but he is doing a good job for his future ministerial career by being seen to do a lot on things such as fundraising and lobbying. Meanwhile, the evidence suggests there are question marks about his understanding of the sector and his breadth of vision. Many of his actions in the last few months are rather like the infamous Dangerous Dogs Act: populist, short-term responses to transient dramas, with no sense of their future consequences. Here's my advice: don't just do something, Rob - sit there. Look and listen a bit more.

Q. Charities are constantly enjoined to be business-like and are indeed becoming more like businesses and the corporate sector. Am I right to be uneasy?

A. Charity - this messy, untidy, spontaneous, amorphous substance full of passion and energy - is one of the best things about British society. Somehow, the idea has got around that the corporate model is the best - or only - way of doing things, which is arrant nonsense. The current fashion to make it all fit into a corporate mould for the convenience of regulators and business commentators will eventually pass. But the creation of so many hoops to jump through and a raft of penalties for deviation from the rules is a threat to some of the essential elements of charity.

Q. As chief executive, I'm disgusted by the supine response of our trustees to cuts in welfare benefits. They have more or less told me to stop making media attacks on the government. I agree our job is not to attack government, but it is our job to protect the most vulnerable people in society. I don't think you can do one without the other - do you?

A. You joined the charity because of your conscience and convictions. Your view of your options is (a) to swallow the attitude of the trustees, (b) to try to convert them by force of argument, (c) to resign in full view of the media. I think you would find (a) intolerable. If you took route (c) you would be old news the following day. Don't give up on the force of argument until you're sure it has failed. Then, when you leave, you can be confident of your motives.

Q. There is turmoil on the board. It is riven by factions and there has been a series of attempted coups, though no one has complete control. The most recent led to three of the best-qualified trustees being asked to resign, and the board now has no one with a deep understanding of our work.

A. Let's look at the odds. You don't have a chair who can relate to you, or vice versa, on behalf of the board. If you're taken hostage by one of the factions, you risk getting caught in the crossfire. If you try to stabilise relations within the board, you're likely to be seen as partisan. When you try to work behind the scenes, you're seen as devious. How's your CV looking?

Sector veteran Peter Cardy offers answers to your workplace dilemmas. Contact him at

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