OPINION: We cannot fulfil our remit while we're moaning

Geraldine Peacock, a charity commissioner and a civil service commissioner

Once again the Sunday papers are full of Posh and Becks, and, without putting too fine a point on it, Mrs Beckham seems to be struggling to adapt to changing times. Posh displays all the characteristics of wanting to create a new, iconic image of her own. But to what end?

No, you haven't picked up a copy of Hello! magazine by mistake, but there are a number of similarities between Mrs B's behaviour and many voluntary organisations which are failing to see that the times, they are a-changing.

Michael Howard's plans, announced at the recent CAF conference, to put the sector centre-stage if the Tories win the next election, were followed the same day by the Prime Minister going out of his way to meet and thank representatives of the sector for their contribution to society. Both approaches reinforced my long-held view that it is about time the sector stopped whingeing and did a bit more about seizing the day - and making sure we do it strategically.

We have a lot to offer but don't always realise it because we are busy shooting ourselves in the foot over issues such as core costs, instead of seeing the bigger picture. With or without new legislation we should be ensuring that the voluntary sector has a unique role to play in civil engagement, which is not just about service delivery, but also about redefining the role between citizen and state.

The issues that should be concerning us are not about what the government can do for us, but what we can ensure any government does - with us - for society. Issues such as core costs can obscure the very collaboration and effective meeting of need, which is what we should be about.

And the same attitude that allows detail to obscure the big picture can prevent us from realistic self-evaluation. We need to be clear-eyed about how effective we are, whether we have met all our goals and, if so, whether we ought to call it a day. If we've achieved our mission, or if it's better done by others, I think we should call it a day, but how often do we see charities voluntarily close down?

The sector should make up its mind where, how and with whom it can add value, and then assert itself. Otherwise, like the boy who cried "wolf", we may be heard, but not believed.

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