Debra Allcock Tyler: We must take risks if we are to help those we serve

In spite of the regular attacks launched at the sector, charities must remain confident in the work they do, writes our columnist

Debra Allcock Tyler
Debra Allcock Tyler

When two of my nephews, Freddie and Louis, were toddlers their favourite game was running along a very long, low bench, then jumping off the end.

Freddie used to hurtle along it, launch himself gleefully into the air and inevitably bash his knees on landing. Louis, a rather more cautious chap, tended to inch his way slowly along the bench and, after a bit of mithering, make a tentative and somewhat shaky jump, and usually, though not always, land safely.

An observer might conclude that Freddie was the courageous one. But the thing is that Freddie wasn't scared, so he had nothing to be brave about. The more sensible Louis, however, was terribly conscious of all the perils involved in the enterprise and was genuinely anxious. But - and here's the thing - he jumped anyway.

Relentless attacks

Almost every day it seems we're reading yet another article accusing us of something or other. Relentless attacks and negative narratives about how we're run, how we raise money, how we spend money and how we engage with our supporters. At the very least, it's a bit wearing, so it's completely understandable that, in this environment we, especially trustees, are warily concluding that it's safer to keep our heads down and stay under the radar.

But managing risk is emphatically NOT about pointing out the scary stuff and then hiding behind the sofa until the monsters have gone away. It is about knowing what sort of monster it is and using whatever weapons we can lay our hands on to confront it. Because, even if our sword is a bit blunt and our shield a bit dented, the monster will not go away just because we're hiding.

So it seems to me that the fear of a bad news story, or falling foul of some silly regulation, or annoying someone in power, or having slightly fewer reserves than feels comfortable are not good enough reasons to stay on the bench or behind the sofa. If you believe, as I do, that it is our job in the sector to make the world better for folk who are often facing scarier monsters and steeper jumps than we are, then we have to take risks. It is our job to challenge injustice or unfairness or greed. Because if we don't, who will?

Take some risks

This means that sometimes you are going to have to take some risks that might have a financial impact and might, like our monster, come back to bite you in the bum. But if you're too scared to take risks, then you're in the wrong sector.

The monsters we face are wicked ones. If they were easy to beat by safer means then they would have been. The former US President John F Kennedy apparently said: "There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long-range risks of comfortable inaction."

You don't have to launch yourself recklessly into the air, hoping to land well. By all means jump carefully but, for your beneficiaries' sake, make the damn jump!

Debra Allcock Tyler is chief executive of the Directory of Social Change

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