What fun, I thought, as I set off with two colleagues to attend the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales's Charities Online Financial Reporting Awards last month.
Both were ICAEW members, but neither had ever been to the imposing building in Moorgate Place, London. As a proud member, I waxed lyrical about the history of the building and how my grandfather, who was articled in 1927, once gave me a strange hardback set of photos of the inside of the institute.
It was all the more touching because we had been shortlisted for the online accounts of the year award for our size of organisation. Sadly, our enthusiasm did not last long.
At the ceremony itself, our host proceeded to express, at some length, his deep disappointment at the standard of accounts. He admitted that in one category the ICAEW had refused to vote for a runner-up and, in another, it had decided to give no award at all. We were all just one big disappointment, it seemed.
Considering the fact that, of the 100 or so people in the room, roughly 100 per cent were there because they had been shortlisted in the first place, this was pretty raw.
As the tap water and the air began to taste more bitter, we finally reached the end of the ceremony and the best of a bad lot (otherwise known as 'winners') were asked to hang back for a group photo, as the barrel-scrapings who made up the shortlist (the 'losers') were sharply ushered to the next room with the wine. I noted some hound dog-style sad looks from the winners, who clearly weren't feeling the exaltation they had expected.
Now, I can't complain about people speaking their mind. The issue I have is that when speaking one's mind it is always best to make sure that it is constructive, directed at the right audience (the ones with the power to make real change) and motivating. Did we leave feeling motivated to be ambassadors for better online accounts? Not particularly. However, there was a certain dark comedy to the evening that does lure one to enter again next year.
Please don't think I disapprove of competitiveness - far from it. Someone mentioned the Caucus Race from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland today, in which everyone runs and everyone wins. I never liked that story - if we want better standards, we need to motivate, encourage and energise.
Unfortunately, these are not words we associate with chartered accountants. Next year, can the awards be hosted by Bruce Forsyth, please?
Helen Simmons is finance director at the Diocese of London