Let the young know about the riches of charity work

People who work for charities are not deemed to have 'made it' in life - but they do make a difference, says Martin Edwards

Martin Edwards
Martin Edwards

I nearly choked on my muesli when I opened a letter from my old school inviting me to give the annual prize-giving speech.

Am I really that old, I thought? Besides, my time there was not happy, so I have never been back: but I accepted the chance to enthuse a new generation of boys about charity work.

When I arrived, I was astonished to find many of my old teachers were still there - looking a little more wrinkled and being unnervingly nice to me, but otherwise untouched by time. Somehow I got through the small talk beforehand without calling any of them "sir". Even so, as I stood up it felt like they were marking my speech.

I began by cracking a few jokes about old fossils, and got a few more laughs by exploring the psychological similarities between head teachers and psychopaths. Then I got to the heart of the matter: whether the boys should consider careers in the charity sector. Initially I advised them to "take the money - become a lawyer. No one will like you, but at least you'll be rich."

It's a fair point, one that I ponder each time I read my bank statements. But then I went on to recall the African famines that I had played a small part in relieving and the happy faces of the very ill children we care for at Julia's House. Finally, I looked at the healthy faces of the boys in front of me and I wished them a long life, at the end of which they could say: "I made a difference with my life. I left the world a better place than I found it."

I didn't say that, as a charity worker, your innovative social impact will usually be ignored rather than modelled by successive governments.

I didn't mention wading through commissioning contracts, or waging tiresome campaigns to stop back-of-the-envelope policies from creating unintended hindrances for charities. Who wants to disillusion the young?

I didn't say that the media usually gives you a platform only if you are beautiful, in the depths of personal tragedy or likely to embarrass a minister in public - or preferably all three. Or that we shouldn't have to beg for money for things that are cost-effective and just. Or that if trustees lack integrity, your idealism will be crushed in a head-on collision with reality. Far better to give them hope. So I gave it my all, stoking the fires of their dreams.

I drove away from the grand old buildings where I had once learned so much and yet enjoyed myself so little, ancient ghosts receding behind me and finally put to rest. A charity worker was an unusual choice of speaker, for people like me are not deemed to have 'made it' in life. But I can still hear the hush in the audience when I told them that riches do not matter, nor does the car you drive, nor the clothes you wear; it is the things that you do for your fellow human beings that you will be remembered for.

And for the ones who might follow me into this sector, I shall keep my fingers crossed.

Martin Edwards is chief executive of the children's hospice Julia's House

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in
RSS Feed

Third Sector Insight

Sponsored webcasts, surveys and expert reports from Third Sector partners

Third Sector Logo

Get our bulletins. Read more articles. Join a growing community of Third Sector professionals

Register now