OPINION: Shuffling off this mortal coil

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

One of the essential qualities of a good trustee is the ability to know when you have outstayed your welcome. There can be no resting on laurels on the trustee panels of today's charities. You may have done great work in the past, but unless you still have something positive to contribute, the most productive thing you could do is to make room for someone who has. Trusteeships should no longer be regarded as the equivalent of the papacy - a job until you die.

Self-knowledge is one of the hardest challenges all of us face. We have no distance from ourselves. But we need to try. I had my 'road to Damascus' moment recently at a fund-raising lunch in a smart restaurant where I had been asked to give a brief history of the charity (with which I have been involved for aeons), before our celebrity did the jokes. All went well, and then the very able head of fundraising started talking to me about the event and how successful it had been. "I don't know why we haven't tried these before," she laughed. And I was about to reply "Oh, but we have, back in the year dot, and they fizzled out after about three events," but I managed to swallow the words. They were not what were needed. As a trustee I was becoming a liability, a negative force, rather than a spur to greater things. It was time to pack my bags.

I may be over-dramatising this. I'll not be leaving the panel on the next train, but I know it is time to start planning a date of departure.

I can too readily conjure up the image in my mind's eye of too many inspired people who I have seen hanging on too long, believing themselves indispensable, when in fact they were becoming a burden. In the end, they had to be told, and nothing could be as painful for either the bearers of the bad news or the recipients.

Some third sector organisations insist that trustees undergo annual or at least regular checks, or even re-election, to ensure that they don't ossify. It is good practice and one that the Charity Commissioners should insist on for all charities.

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