Editorial: Unholy confluence of factors derailed CAF

Stephen Cook, editor

The events leading up to the sudden departure of Stephen Ainger from the Charities Aid Foundation are still so recent that it is difficult to be sure about exactly what went wrong. Perhaps it will be the subject of someone's PhD in due course.

As in most derailments, there was probably an unholy confluence of factors that would not have caused too much trouble if they had come along one by one. A personality and business style shaped in the oil industry may not have endeared Ainger to some colleagues steeped in a voluntary sector ethic; the task of modernising the back office seems to have involved worrying overruns; and the recent strategic review appears to have contributed to the loss of important senior staff and generated the kind of anxiety about the future that leads all too easily to multiple relationship breakdown.

One staffer who rang Third Sector said in a trembling voice that a climate of fear was developing at the organisation.

Too much should not be read into one overwrought perception, but things have clearly been a bit bloody. There are also some slightly curious aspects to the Ainger years - why, for example, did the strategic review not get under way right at the start?

As it is, the process of change, always destabilising, looks as if it could be long drawn-out. How willing will any new leader be to step in and complete a strategic review begun by someone else? The new person will inevitably want to put his or her own stamp on things, and might even decide to start the review process again. There are multiple questions and challenges for the organisation to face.

But a sense of perspective is vital in a crisis, and the bottom line about CAF is that it does much that is good and useful - arguably more than any other institution that serves the sector. Some important housekeeping seems to have been completed under Ainger, but some of the various offshoots and outbuildings that have grown up over the years might now have to be demolished so that it can focus on and develop the things it does best.

Among these are its research, its financial services for charities, the Venturesome project, and its donor services.

As the dust of the recent ructions settles, a huge opportunity beckons.

The trustees of CAF should beware being bounced into easy solutions by the sense of emergency and take the time to think and consult widely before making the next move.

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