Peter Cardy on dealing with a cause that usually leads to death

Our columnist also advises on the visionless board and handing over to a new chief executive

Peter Cardy
Peter Cardy

Q. Our charity seems to be in denial. Everyone who has the disease we're concerned with dies of it, or with it, sooner or later. Yet nowhere in our publications, in print or electronic, is this mentioned - the general thrust seems to be to hide behind euphemisms and double-speak. Any thoughts?

A. Most people who get this disease will know or discover that it's fatal, and so will their carers and people close to them. Your charity helps people in many other ways, but it seems like a cruel omission - and, frankly, cowardly - not to help them understand this in a suitably thoughtful fashion. If you don't, they will be relying on folklore and gossip, with a constant lurking dread. You might not be able to improve the disease, but you can certainly help to address the secret dread.

Q. When I moved from big retail, I was looking forward to working with my new board, having always admired the model of the trustees as custodians of the objects of the charity. It's radically different from the for-profit sector, where a director's job is to secure profitability, or at least financial viability. I'm very disappointed. The trustees seem to have no vision, no motivation to change or even modernise. They are elected from among the members, who seem to want change, but constantly elect these stick-in-the-muds. Any ideas?

A. Some time ago, the chief executive of a prominent national charity was found with his fingers in the ballot box. After an interview with the lawyers he left quickly, so don't even think about it. Generally, people with ideas don't offer themselves for election unless encouraged. Without attempting to influence the electoral process, it is entirely proper for you, the chair and other voluntary officers who share this view to go talent-spotting. "Have you thought about offering yourself for election?" is a legitimate question, which usually leads to constructive discussion and often to positive outcomes.

Q. When I did the handover to my successor after 10 years as chief executive, I made sure she had all my details and urged her to get in touch if she wanted to know anything. I called her regularly for the first few months, but she has never called me, so I've stopped. To be honest, I feel a bit miffed. It's a high-pressure job in a very complex organisation to which I was deeply attached. I want to help make sure it thrives.

A. Don't be miffed; it's the norm. Your fondness for the organisation is mixed up with your wishes for its future. You overstate the complexity; at the top level, most organisations are rather similar. Sooner or later your successor has got to learn how it works for herself. Her ego is just as big as yours and she wants to get her hands on the wheel. And if it's such a high-pressure job, she hasn't got time to be chatting to you every week. The need for long and detailed handovers is overestated. I started three jobs where the boards had planned long overlaps, but none lasted for more than a month before we had run out of things to say.

Q. We are wasting a lot of money by allowing our 400-plus branches to run separate bank accounts on all sorts of different terms. We have set up pooled banking that would give them all free services and access to their local balances, but after three years only half have taken it up. How can we force them?

A. This is about a mix of historic distrust, local deafness, branches preferring their local banks (even though there aren't local banks any more) and inertia. You've got much more to do before you get heavy, like a couple of years of talking, listening and persuading. When you've built a climate of mutual support, it's time to have a debate and a resolution at the AGM.

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

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