Agony: Peter Cardy says big charities get bigger, so live with it

The sector veteran offers answers to your workplace dilemmas

Peter Cardy
Peter Cardy

Q. Some smaller charities in our sector meet to discuss common issues. One constant theme is that we're fed up with the big charities stealing our ideas and hoovering up funding and publicity. Why don't they want to partner with us?

A. In my experience of running some big organisations, I don't think we intentionally trod on the toes of the hundreds of smaller organisations in our field. Even so, we were constantly criticised for it. We saw the need to create new services, campaigns or projects that were a valuable and logical extension of what we were already doing. I'm afraid the same is true in every sector, even in the commercial world. Size generates growth and growth generates expansion, but partnership takes a lot of time and effort and the benefits must outweigh the costs.

Q. We have experienced a big downturn in our finances since we had a beating in the yellow press a couple of years ago. Our government grants have dried up and major funders don't want to know. The staff have been busting their buns to raise grants, gifts and donations, but without much success. We have had to shut several flagship services. We are close to the point where our assets will not pay off our liabilities. I am worried to death about going into administration.

A. For those who haven't been there, this is an incredibly painful step. But the only thing worse than going into administration when the charity still has assets is not doing so. If you stop now, there is a chance your services will be taken on by another charity. If you try desperately to keep going, in all likelihood your beneficiaries will have no services, your successor charity will have no share of your assets and your creditors will receive derisory compensation. However bad you feel about it, taking timely steps will mean that everyone emerges with something. Leave it too late and everyone has nothing.

Q. Our local MP has done a huge amount for the charity both before and since he was elected. It has all been in support of the community in his role as local worthy and latterly as an excellent constituency MP. He comes to all our events, advocates our work in the press, features us on Facebook and has helped personally with fundraising. We would like to reciprocate in some way.

A. Stop! Curb your generous instincts. What makes you think he is altruistic, when being a good constituency MP is a major factor in being re-elected? If you are seen to be too much in bed with him, you will run into criticism, some of it unspoken and therefore impossible to counter, from other parties and even factions in his own party. Someone is bound to complain to the Charity Commission. You need to develop a respectful distance and show your even-handedness by talking to the parliamentary candidates and local councillors of all parties. Have a frank conversation with him about this, so he doesn't think you're just dropping him after all his generosity.

Q. Since I came to the UK from Australia I've been working as a service manager in a dynamic health charity. I love it! Last year a new manager came to lead our group of health professionals and we are going from strength to strength. But he always addresses me in his version of an Aussie accent. The joke is getting tired and I can't help feeling it's a gender thing: would he do it to a bloke?

A. I recognise this. It's a way of making him feel comfortable with a strong, confident, established group of women professionals. Although he's not conscious of it, it's about gender and power; if he's worth his salary, it's not necessary. I suggest that you take him aside privately and tell him - as gently as you can - what he's doing. He'll never forget it - I didn't when I was tackled about the same thing.

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

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