OPINION: More of a hindrance than help

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

I have a pet theory about the trajectory of charities. Most of the biggest go off like a rocket, fuelled by one inspired and inspiring individual with a brilliant, big idea. They attract almost cult-like adoration from those who gather round and so create enough momentum to get off the launching pad and into the stratosphere. Stage two determines whether the charity just floats up there with the stars or whether it continues its forward motion, and stage three, reaching out to more people through an increasing range of projects.

Getting beyond stage two is trickiest. Too many once-dazzling charities simply stagnate. It is not enough to send them plummeting back to earth in flames, but their horizons narrow and their ambitions shrink. Existing becomes all. Sooner or later another bright, new charity with similar founding aims comes roaring up to occupy much the same space. And then the chances are that it too burns brightly briefly and then enters a half-life, and so on and so on.

So how do you achieve stage three? It is, above all, a people problem.

The inspired individual who beguiles in stage one is rarely what is needed in stage two. There the mix should be half the inspiration but twice the management skills. To get to stage three requires another personnel change - still a smattering of vision, but also a heavy dollop of business expertise.

I've always thought of myself as a stage two-er - okay on passion but definitely not in the messiah category, and susceptible to management theory, but only in small doses. I say this not as navel-gazing, but because I believe it is crucial that we all recognise our particular talents in order to know when we are becoming an obstacle to step-change from one stage to another.

It is a dilemma we all need to address if the third sector isn't going to become ever more crowded with inert charities that do enough to keep surviving but not enough to keep going onwards and upwards. The cause, after all, is more important than any ultimately dispensable individual.

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