Opinion: Altruism comes with a catch

We all, I suspect, have our Lottery dream. My fantasy got pinched by television's At Home With the Braithwaites. Not the dysfunctional family, the ghastly house or the open-top Rolls. No, it was the part where Amanda Redman set up a charitable foundation and handed out grants to good causes.

Since I never buy a Lottery ticket, my chances of doing the same are currently nil. I suppose instead I could always write the biggest selling book ever. Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code has just sold a record-breaking 6.2 million copies in the States in hardback alone. That would produce a decent set-up sum for a foundation, but on my current form it's a distant dream.

One consolation that I find as I nudge middle-age is the realisation that nothing is as perfect as it can seem from the outside. So, I have been slowly coming round to the view that, being a grant giver, however pleasurable it seems in theory, is probably much harder in practice than it looks. We all know that raising money is impossible, but somehow we get on with it, conquer those huge odds and go home at night with a warm glow of satisfaction.

Handing it out should by contrast be easy, but demand always outstrips supply, and thus you will end up letting people down and feeling awful as a consequence.

My third sector life has hitherto been spent receiving rather than giving, but of late this poacher has turned gamekeeper. And, yes, there is a great sense of enabling good things to happen to people who need them, but I have also discovered the hidden snags. Like the recipients who tell you they are going to do one thing with your money, and then once they have the cheque do another. Or organisations for whom filing and record keeping is anathema.

We talk a great deal today about the growing professionalism of the third sector. By and large it is true. But, seen through the lens of a grant-giving trust, too often the impression lingers of a minority of well-meaning amateurs who regard any sort of external control as interference. Peter Stanford is a writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards.

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