Newsmaker: Cautious likely lad

Nathalie Thomas

Rodney Buse Chair, Charity Trustee Networks - Wants CTN to evolve into a Friends Reunited for trustees.

Mention the name Rodney Buse to more mature citizens and the man most likely to spring to mind is Rodney Bewes, who played Bob Ferris in the 1964 sitcom The Likely Lads and its 1973 follow-up.

Those who know Buse would probably expect few parallels beyond the names, given that he has devoted a large proportion of his life to chairing or acting as trustee to charities too numerous to list.

But a quick read of the sitcom character's profile unearths more similarities than one might expect. Few adjectives could better describe Buse and his approach to Charity Trustee Networks' developing strategy than the BBC's description of Bob Ferris as "cautious, down-to-earth, but nonetheless ambitious".

The caution with which Buse treats a rather benign discussion paper, to be kept strictly off the record until CTN members have received it, betrays a man anxious to keep his members onside. His tendency towards caution is also demonstrated by his insistence that the new strategy, which could be determined as early as April, is "evolution rather than revolution". But his idea of turning CTN into a Friends Reunited for trustees is evidence of a quiet ambition.

He says: "Linda Laurence and the trustees who helped create CTN in 1998 did a fabulous job, but a number of questions have been asked about how CTN can become more effective and gain influence over time."

In the next few months, Buse and his chief executive, Karen Heenan, will be trying to answer those questions through discussions with members and stakeholder groups. They already have a clear idea of where they'd like the organisation to go.

Buse uses the analogy of his holiday to explain. "We chose the hotel, bought the brochures and got all of the authoritative documents," he says.

"We then went onto the web and looked at the impartial comments from people who had stayed there, and we emailed one or two to get their views."

He envisages an environment in which trustees will be able to email, phone or meet up to discuss concerns with others who may have had similar experiences. The website Trustee Net, which is one strand of this vision, has already been tested and is set to go public in a month or two. "It's important to stress that it's on a no-liability basis," Buse says.

This means that Trustee Net and other potential initiatives will include disclaimers to guard against litigation. "In that sense, it's sort of a friendship relationship rather than formal advice," he explains.

But before CTN starts to sound like an online dating agency, Buse points out that he would also like the organisation to represent the "trustee's voice" when it comes to consulting the Government and others. He says: "A number of people have told us it's actually quite difficult at present to get the trustees' perspective heard, and there's no major group."

To counter this problem, CTN wants to consult a support network of between 300 and 500 trustees to ensure members' concerns are represented at the necessary levels.

Theoretically, this would be done without stepping on the toes of other organisations, Buse stresses. "Our plans are fairly clear," he says. "We don't intend to get involved with conferences, courses and training. We want to work with players in the sector that deliver those resources."

Although Buse is at pains to point out that CTN has "gone to great lengths to ensure it occupies a unique position" in the growing arena of support and assistance for trustees, he also knows the organisation must get it right if it is to fulfil its objectives. "Unless we can put a package on the table that demonstrably adds value so that people want to buy it, they won't become members," he says.

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