Opinion: It's competition, but not as we know it ...

Peter Cardy, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Relief

With more than 840 cancer charities on the register - a few monsters and one titan - some jostling for the sunloungers isn't surprising.

Cancer Research UK, as big as a basking shark, has been accused of predation by the minnows in these very pages. Macmillan, the second-largest, is sometimes likened to a swarm of locusts with our very successful fundraising. We might be ambitious, but we're heavily dependent on collaboration with partners in the voluntary and statutory sectors, so it isn't in our interests to behave like Napoleon's army.

But great fleas have lesser fleas upon their backs, and so on. Having worked for charities from sizes XS to XL, I know you're always looking over your shoulder at what the competition is doing. Sometimes the competition is smaller than you are, highly focused when you're general, and able to take opportunities and manoeuvre quickly.

There are genuinely competitive charities, looking for bigger income or share of mind, or scrambling for survival with fees or grants. There are charity leaders who are competitive personalities and don't know about collaboration. Many trustees are from business and understand no other model. But most of the time the competition doesn't know it's competing. What it thinks it's doing is providing a better service to its beneficiaries (who are also yours), improving its relations with its donors (who might be yours), raising its profile (which you think should be yours) and extending its services (which you think you could do better).

In the third sector, we have no shareholders demanding better returns on investment, so, in principle, the only competition should be to do better. With no charity competition laws, treaties, alliances and cartels divide up the space so that everyone spends some time in the shade and some time in the sun, and honours a sense of fairness. Yet it's still uncomfortable. There is a right to become a charity, but there's no right to continue to exist or to grow.

But opportunities exist to advance the interests of your beneficiaries by getting a higher profile, by capturing juicier celebrities or events, by being first on the new fundraising bandwagon. There is constant pressure to do it, even if it means being temporarily unpopular with your allies. Ask Tesco if it thinks it should surrender market share to Sainsbury's. Unless you're the Competition Commission, it won't even hear the question.

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