OPINION: Don't always fear radical ideas

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

Ideals and realities - they're the two poles between which we are all constantly operating. Finding the right middle way is probably the hardest judgment we have to make. It has all been brought into stark relief this week by a younger colleague on one of the trust boards I sit on.

We have a small pot of money to spend on an education project. He has done a tonne of research and come up with something fantastic but complex that potentially could make a difference for a large group of youngsters.

I found myself arguing for something more limited in scope for all sorts of practical reasons.

One of the most persuasive disincentives to be bold, as I heard myself intoning, is the attitude of funders. I have been scarred for life by the experience a few years back of labouring away trying to get a professorial endowment off the ground only to be told by trust after trust and corporate donor after corporate donor that (a) they didn't do endowments and (b) couldn't we come up with something that included bricks and mortar?

Of course, as the National Lottery boards have discovered, this second line creates its own problems. You can build wonderful buildings but have nothing to do in them, or more specifically nothing to do that will generate enough income to keep them running. Yet funders still like a building - or something tangible. In the case of the education scheme under debate, my safe option will provide just that in a one-to-one relationship with donors. The radical alternative will not.

Perhaps, though, I am being too pessimistic. I have certainly come a long way from the days when I used to brandish a Christian Aid pamphlet called The Cost of Knowing Her Name at any friend who mentioned they were thinking of sponsoring a child in the Third World. That balance between passion, commitment and pragmatism is an ever-evolving thing but we must never be complacent. Certainly trying to second guess donors may only lead you to underestimate them. I seem, after all, to be talking myself out of the safe option.

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