Opinion: Hot Issue - Would you be happy to have the Duchess of Kent as a patron?

Children's charities Dreams Come True and Sparks have stood by their patron Princess Michael of Kent, despite the allegedly racist remarks she made while dining in Manhattan earlier this month.

YES - Marjorie Wallace, chief executive, Sane

If we had already worked closely together and she had given her time and energy to the charity, we wouldn't lightly act on reported remarks.

Having a patron involves a gesture of faith and a bond of trust on both sides. However, this does not mean that the charity is taking on the individual with all their causes and beliefs, present and future. In turn, the patron has to accept the way the charity changes and develops. It's a complex relationship.

Sane is fortunate in having the commitment and vision of Prince Charles, who has been our patron for 18 years. He responded with his instinctive empathy to the feelings of loneliness and alienation experienced then, as now, by people with enduring mental illness. He takes an intense interest in individuals and was as impatient as we were for government and public attitudes to change.

There is also no doubt that Prince Charles's presence at balls, banquets, polo matches and openings made it possible for us to raise funds at international level.

As regards Princess Michael, if she and her charity have invested equally in each other, it would be wrong to make a precipitous break. Like all ongoing relationships, there can be rifts - often not quickly resolved.

YES - Peter Gilheany, associate director, Geronimo PR

The simple truth is that if charities discounted every possible patron on the grounds of embarrassing gaffes they have made, there would be an acute shortage of patrons.

It really boils down to horses for courses and depends on the nature of the charity and the nature of its donor audience. If your charity is the type that receives support from donors who enjoy big fundraising dinners and glad-handing minor royals, then you would have to consider using the Duchess of Kent.

Patrons need to be assessed dispassionately, where possible, and the charity needs to consider the possible outcomes of appointing a patron, in terms of potential access to new donors, the loss of existing donors and the effect on reputation - either positive or negative. This risk assessment is crucial to the decision, and is why it needs to be business-like. If the chair of your trustees puts forward a friend as a possible patron, you have to grasp the nettle of rejecting that person if they are unsuitable.

In the end, any patron carries an element of risk. While you can be certain of their past activities and profile, as the Duchess of Kent illustrates, you cannot legislate for their actions in the future.

NO - Christine Fogg, joint chief executive, Breast Cancer Care

Not because of her recent alleged remarks, but because she doesn't fit our current patron strategy.

Our patron strategy is clearly linked to Breast Cancer Care's forward plan. Therefore, we approach individuals whom we believe have specific potential, because of their profile or role, to help us promote our services and convey the voice of people affected by breast cancer. We need to target new groups of service users and their families as well as the health policy sector. To ensure credibility we seek patrons known to have had a personal experience of breast cancer, or have another professional link.

At Breast Cancer Care we also have a close working relationship with our patrons. They give us a significant amount of time - both in and out of the spotlight. They become part of the Breast Cancer Care family, and advocate effectively for the organisation and our service users. It seems unlikely that a royal patron would be able to make this kind of diary commitment.

All that said, it would be wrong to make a decision based on one contested allegation, and both Sparks and Dreams Come True have responded appropriately to the recent media reports.

NO - Martin Blakebrough, chief executive, Kaleidoscope Project

I have always rejected the idea of patrons because they are normally titled people who have little understanding of the work you are doing.

It is a British obsession to believe that if royals like you, the world will do too.

The royals are not real people; they are in many ways the Christmas decorations on our society. The issue for me, however, is do we as charities take anyone's money? Would we take money from the British National Party? I think many of us would draw the line on that one. Yet we will bank with institutions that make most of their profits from the exploitation of the developing world.

Words that people use are important, but sometimes it is easier to judge people on what is politically correct rather than the actions of that person. If Martin Luther King were to have made a joke about vegetarians (my wife is one), I might have been hurt, but it would not invalidate all the good he has done.

I am not surprised that charities are reluctant to drop their patrons, in the same way that businesses crave the endorsement of David Beckham.

While the public are enthralled by celebrity, the culture of inappropriate patrons will continue.

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