OPINION: Always be true to your roots


Nancy probably would have blushed at being the centre of attention, but then it was her memorial service. We had been trustees together, and the church was full of people with similar tales to tell. In charity terms, she belonged to the old school. The first disability organisation she ran in the early 70s was staffed by volunteers and operated on a wing and a prayer from her front room. The whole enterprise, like many of its contemporaries, stood or fell on the quality of its pioneering ideas and the selflessness of its staff and volunteers.

But, as Nancy would remark latterly while our trustee board approved proposals for staff relaxation rooms and pension contributions, the times they were a changing. Governments have come to view charities as partners in bringing about justice and change. As a result, their whole ethos has through necessity become more professional. Charity is now a career, not a vocation.

All of which is good, if it translates into increased benefits for the "customer". Yet as I sat in the church and listened, I couldn't help mourning that spirit that had driven an earlier generation. There are risks to importing into charities the values of the commercial world. Charities are not businesses and cannot only be about the bottom line. Most of the time they are concerned with those in society who fall short of this mark.

Which is where trustees come in. Our responsibilities are moral. We are not the board of directors by another name. A stray remark from a fellow mourner brought it home to me.

Years ago, Nancy, like my own mother, used to have an Invacar - Reliant Robins without the styling and just one seat. Some Invacar drivers have hung on to them because it's what they're comfortable with. Yet the fleet that belongs to the Government, I was told, is being a culled next year on the grounds that the cars are "uneconomical". But then they never were economical. That wasn't their point. They answered a need and that need, for a small number, still exists, even if it upsets the bottom line.

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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