OPINION: Debunk myths that persist in public thinking

GERALDINE PEACOCK, chief executive of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association

There is some serious "myth-debunking

that needs doing if the voluntary sector is to be able to punch its true weight. While myths abound, there are three big ones which really need tackling head on.

I was reminded of the first big myth while being interviewed on the radio last week. It was put to me that investing on the stock market is gambling and "an irresponsible use of charitable funds

- the accusation being that the stock market is not a safe place to keep your reserves.

However, investment in any form carries an element of risk. It is on the management of risk that charities should be judged. Good practice lies in spreading the risk by, for example, having more than one fund manager or investing in FTSE 250 companies. When I, in turn, asked the interviewer how he would safeguard Guide Dogs' reserves, he had no answer.

One thing is for sure though, the old method of sticking it in a biscuit tin and sitting on the lid is no solution.

The second big myth is that if you talk about and invest in planning, strategy and marketing, you are hardhearted and uncaring. In fact, the reverse is true. It is the lack of investment in charities' infrastructures which lessens their effectiveness. What price is caring when the organisation is in chaos? What we need is a balanced and sustained investment in building sustainable structures and this is now beginning to rise to the top of third sector and government agendas.

The third myth is that those of us who work in the voluntary sector should be paid less than our counterparts in other areas of business. The public still does not seem able to understand that the voluntary sector is a major employer and contributor to the economy. While people are motivated to work in the sector by the principle of people before profit, you have to pay reasonable salaries to attract the most creative and caring people.

If we don't, we are not investing in the fabric of our sector and our society.

What we need to do on all these fronts is actually stand up and speak for ourselves, set agendas, shape expectations and move forward in a way which establishes the voluntary sector as an effective player in society.

These are three myths from the top of my "to debunk

list. What are yours?

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