Peter Cardy advises on unpaid interns and naval discipline

The sector veteran offers answers to your workplace dilemmas

Peter Cardy
Peter Cardy

Q.What do you think about unpaid interns? We are very small and have no spare funds to appoint more staff, but we could certainly use extra help. As a children's charity, I think we could be very attractive to new graduates looking for work experience for their CVs.

A. Why not be straight about it and say you're looking for volunteers? Spraying on the label of "internship" as camouflage for not paying is dishonest and repugnant in my view, and has devalued the role of intern. But if you've got no spare staff time, how are you going to recruit, manage, train and mentor them? Volunteers of any age need to be properly supported, but for young people starting on their careers it is even more important that they are not just thrown in at the deep end and left to sink or swim.

Q. I'm a trustee of a respected philanthropic body with a long democratic tradition. Our chief executive died recently and the trustees were all expecting a hiatus while we recruited a successor. I've just received a letter from the (fairly new) chair and vice-chair telling the trustees about the new chief executive they have appointed and the terms and conditions, including a fancy salary.

A. Being new is no excuse. It is the job of the trustees to hire and fire the chief officer, and unless the chair has explicitly been given delegated powers to do so, she or he has no authority to take such action. The trustees would be well advised to act quickly and assert their authority by insisting on starting the recruitment process anew. The chair and vice-chair will probably feel – correctly – that they should resign. Tearing up the contract might cost something, or the new nominee might wish to enter the new recruitment process.

Q. I am the president of a federation of regional charities that deal with a life-threatening disease, which is often fatal within a few months of diagnosis. We are very consumer-oriented and almost everyone is a present or former carer; for obvious reasons, very few current patients are able to participate. One of the regional chairmen has actually survived the disease for several years and I expected him to be a great ally. But instead he is ultra-conservative, a serious block to progress, unable to see things from any other perspective than his own. And, of course, he plays on his status to garner support. Any thoughts?

A. I was once heard to say to a terminally ill volunteer who was making life difficult for other volunteers and staff: "Dying doesn't entitle you to behave like a bloody fool." You will act with much greater sensitivity than me, I'm sure, in dealing firmly with someone who is evidently exploiting their status as a patient/victim/sufferer for their own comfort. Being a beneficiary doesn't entitle you to speak for all of them and you are justified in trying to ensure that the federation is truly representative.

Q. I was quite senior in the navy and was very happy to secure a post in a really worthwhile charity. I was accustomed to people doing what they were asked, so it's rather a shock to find that some of my direct reports want to argue the toss about everything. What's your view?

A. Two thoughts. First, most people in mission-driven charities are themselves driven by the mission, not by management, KPIs, performance-related pay, targets, six-sigma or lean methods. So it's a bit more like herding cats than leading a disciplined force. Second, think about your own style. Do you sound as if you're barking orders? Few people these days are accustomed to it and many people resent it. A collaborative style, while making it clear that ultimately you're in charge, can deliver results.

Sector veteran Peter Cardy offers answers to your workplace dilemmas. Contact him at

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