OPINION: Give way to the greater need

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

It was a beauty parade at a city livery hall. The committee had a certain amount to give away and six charities were pitching. For some reason - probably because I had a pinstripe suit left over from my wedding - I'd been roped in. As I sat waiting, I got talking to the woman next in line from a development charity. There was a severe drought in Africa.

By the time she'd finished telling me what she was planning to say, I wanted to slope off and give her my proxy.

As it was, I was lacklustre and we didn't get the nod. I hope she did.

Now it may be easier in such circumstances for a trustee rather than a fundraiser on performance-related pay to retire hurt. But all of us, if we're honest, have known occasions when our cause, however great, should by rights take second place to a more deserving appeal. Enter Botton Village, a provider of supported housing. It has asked its supporters to stop giving it money because it has enough and has redirected them to 10 other needy causes (Third Sector, 17 July).

If only many of us, I can hear you say, were in that fortunate position.

But there are other occasions when we might just consider ceding pole position. Take, for instance, times of natural disasters around the globe.

How, morally, do you justify competing for the same pot of money to build more comfortable sheltered housing in Stockport with another charity struggling to provide a flood-ravaged African nation with a roof over its head?

Then there is that other uncomfortable reality of modern charity finances - reserved funds. Most of us hold a certain amount on account to tide ourselves over hard times. It's impossible as a trustee to escape the feeling that you are sitting on money that is desperately needed elsewhere.

Yes, we should be sensible and plan and budget, but with our cushion safely in place, occasionally we might show an altruism that the accountants say we can ill afford. Tone down that over-performing appeal to allow a clearer run for others campaigning on needs that are, at that point in time, clearly more urgent.

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