Peter Cardy: Chauvinism, lobbying, big bonuses

Our columnist laments the loss of the internationalist ideals that grew out of the Second World War as the in/out EU debate develops

Peter Cardy
Peter Cardy

Q. The referendum is fast approaching. Do you think leaving the European Union would weaken charities in this country?

A. The most obvious risk is the loss of EU funding for UK or transnational projects; transmission of ideas and models might also suffer to some extent. But the import and export of charitable ideals and methods has always transcended national boundaries and alliances, and I see no reason why that will cease. More important to me is the loss of the internationalist ideals that grew out of the Second World War and the Cold War, and the retreat into petty-minded chauvinism that has led to, and been fed by, the in/out debate.

Q. I am leaving university soon and want to work in a culture where people aren't just out for themselves. But everything about charities in the media these days makes me feel they're just as bad as businesses. What's your advice?

A. Don't be swayed by a few lurid examples and the attention attracted by some flamboyant individuals; this is absolutely not typical of the charity world. The overwhelming majority of charities are as single-minded as ever about their charitable aims and activities, and most people who work for them are still driven by the shared cause and ideals. If you work for a charity, you will soon know whether you share its principles. And think about this: if you're successful in business, you might get rich. If you're successful at a charity, you almost certainly won't.

Q. Should charities be allowed to spend public money on opposing government policy?

A. The anti-lobbying measure implies a petty and restrictive meaning of "influence" - anything that arrogant government doesn't want to hear. But is anyone thinking about the consequences? Many arms of government rely on charities to do consumer research and give them feedback. If they can't do this, influencing will be left to charities that don't need public funding: the privately funded interest groups and think tanks and the charities that don't need public funds, including leviathans such as the RNLI, the British Heart Foundation, Macmillan Cancer Support, the Wellcome Trust and CRUK.

Q. I've just done a year as chair of a voluntary body after 30 years in business. I'm exhausted by the constant struggle to get people to do what they promised they would do, to turn up to meetings, to report on progress... I'm thinking of packing it in.

A. Volunteer roles for almost everyone are down the list of priorities after kids, family, job, paying the bills. Now that you've had a chance to see what your volunteers are able and willing to do, adjust your scale and encourage them to promise only what they really can do. Once you've matched expectation with reality, you can start to challenge non-delivery or rule-breaking.

Q. Which? has been in the news for big bonuses for the executive team. Are they justifiable?

A. As a consumer I'm distressed at the Which? packages; I no longer want to be part of this club. As a trustee I'm shocked that the Which? board has lost the plot so comprehensively. And as a present and past employee of charities, I'm filled with contempt that a clique using the cloak of charity and the camouflage of commercialism is enriching itself at the expense of their beneficiaries. This is squarely in the area of matters that might be "damaging to public trust and confidence in charities generally". It's symptomatic of a perverse view of charity.

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

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