For me, there's no better job title than 'charity worker'

Many charities have an inferiority complex towards the private sector and resort to commercial-sounding job titles, says Martin Edwards

Martin Edwards
Martin Edwards

When I was giving a talk at a local business forum recently, I was surprised to be introduced as "a chief executive, a charity leader, but above all a humanitarian".

That sounds good, I thought: for a moment it felt as if I was not actually at the Dorset Chamber of Commerce, but instead lording it at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, or perhaps at the United Nations - forums that have so far remained stubbornly unaware of my existence.

The trouble is, one can't really use that description about oneself. Imagine if I gave you my card and it said "Martin Edwards, Humanitarian".

Besides, if I moved to a nature charity, I'd have to change it to "Martin Edwards, Naturalist" - which, given that many people confuse naturalism with naturism, would lead to all sorts of embarrassing conversations.

Inferiority complex

This got me thinking about how charity managers describe themselves to people in other sectors. Many charities have an inferiority complex towards the private sector and resort to ghastly commercial-sounding job titles - such as marketing manager, business development director or head of corporate affairs - or team names such as 'acquisition, product development and digital', which was recently advertised by Action Aid. But we shouldn't ape the private sector: we are different and, very often, we are at least as innovative and effective.

When I fill in occupation declarations, I often simply write 'charity worker'. This has flattering connotations of the humility and community street cred that outsiders to our sector assume we all have - and who are we to rid them of this delusion?

Nowadays, charity leaders often describe themselves as 'social entrepreneurs' - I suspect that many of them have little idea what that means but just reckon that it sounds mightily impressive and on-trend.

I suppose we could adopt the term 'big society practitioner', but I can't help feeling that the big society handle - as distinct from its component policies - has grown rusty through lack of love and won't regain its former lustre.

Charitable and proud

There's a similar debate about what to call our sector. I hesitate to tell my lovely editor this, but in my view we're not the 'third sector', because to say that we are third carries more than a hint of catch-up. 'Civil society' is just as ill-fitting, with its insulting (although true) suggestion that other sectors are rather less civil than we are.

In the end, we're not business people, or 'big' this or 'third' that. We are charitable people and we should be proud of it. We have an impact out of all proportion to our means and, if and when we are called to meet our maker and asked to account for our lives, our humanitarian scorecard will be pretty hard to beat.

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

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