OPINION: Get busy with your patronage

Peter Stanford, a writer and broadcaster

My wife occasionally warns me that I have the makings of a neighbourhood busybody, perennially unable simply to observe. She makes me feel like a curtain-twitcher which, just in case you're reading this from my corner of north-west London, I'm not.

The line between getting involved and interfering is a fine one. She's right in the sense that I've never seen the point in being if you're not doing. So when this week an invitation came to become a patron of an annual literary festival, I was rather disconcerted by the reassurance that it wouldn't involve me in doing anything.

On the occasions when it has been my role to try and bolster a charity's roll call of patrons, the most familiar response from those I have approached has been "but what do you want us to do?" When you say nothing very much, too many understandably can't quite see the point. The reality, though, is that charity patrons are an odd and far from homogeneous bunch. If you're a royal or a regular in Hello!, then you allegedly bring glamour.

I'm not entirely convinced of this reflected glory argument. It supposes that the public are so supine they will do anything that their favourite soap star asks.

Another group of patrons are those with some standing in the specialist area in which the charity operates. It basks in the golden light of their eminence. There is, I believe, something in this theory. Charities have nothing but their good name to trade on and anything that bolsters it is a help. And finally there are those patrons who get their name on the notepaper as a way of saying thank you for their support (particularly financial) over the years. As anyone who reads this column regularly will know, I'm a firm believer that if you're going to do something, you should do it for its own sake.

Perhaps then I should have said no to my invitation, but while I am innocent of the charge of curtain twitching, vanity, I have to admit, is an abiding sin. As my penance, I'm going to have to be a busybody patron.

- 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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