OPINION: Business babble doesn't help

PETER STANFORD, a writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards

I've been told about the need to be transparent so often this week that I'm beginning to worry that I have a weight problem. First, the chairman of what is effectively a family trust, though they have found room for outsiders like me on the board, sent out an email preaching the "T

word and adding a dire warning that unless we adopt it donors will disappear into thin air. Then I received the latest edition of the Charity Commission News, trumpeting (in so far as this very proper publication trumpets anything) the need for "a new chapter in openness and transparency".

I had a strict English teacher who drummed into us adolescents that we had always to consider whether one word was better than two, linked by "and". So our spots, he said, were not repulsive and revolting, but one or the other. Take your pick. So openness - yes, I understand that. Every aspect of a charity's organisation must be open to scrutiny. Put me down for that, though please don't tell me that to achieve it an Investors in People certificate will be needed. One charity I know recently spent a four-figure sum to be advised it would only maintain its accreditation if the chief executive remembered to nod at everyone she passed in the corridor.

But transparency - how exactly is this different from openness? Usually when something is transparent you can see through it to the other side i.e. it is either empty or at best insubstantial. And - here we get back to the Investors in People bandwagon - there are some issues that simply cannot be reduced so everyone can understand them. I recall an Investors in People bod asking whether our receptionist had bought into the charity's annual business plan. Of course, she hadn't. She had neither the time nor the interest.

A major contribution to openness might be to stop using clever-sounding buzzwords. There is a growing band of "experts

spouting management-speak who want to turn running a charity into rocket science. Rather than making anything transparent, they all too often muddy the water.

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