Peter Cardy on what to do if your hierarchy is too old and white

Our columnist also advises on how to resolve problems with a major partner and how a charity shop manager should deal with a new regional chief who is hot on corporate branding

Peter Cardy
Peter Cardy

Q. We are an inner-city trust, running sports and fitness facilities for several local authorities. Our board consists of old white men – about as different from our users as can be. What can I do?

A. Speaking as an old white man, perhaps I should spring to the defence of my tribe. But I understand your concern. There is a lot you can do. Advertise for trustees on your website, on Facebook and Twitter and in leaflets. Most important of all, take time and care to brief your gym, pool and sports centre managers to talk to people who are interested in the trust as users, supporters or critics and tell them what is involved in being on the board. You say that your present board shares your concerns, so when they set up an appointments panel, encourage them to prioritise diversity.

Q. We've been appointed charity partner of a major company. It could be worth tens of thousands over the next year. But we're only a few months in and beginning to regret it. Our partner is demanding and controlling, and doesn't seem to empathise with us as a charity. Our local groups are beginning to complain about their demands. What should we do?

A. You are experiencing a classic culture clash: your partner's aim is to maximise sales; yours is to maximise charitable income. Your judgement is how far you are prepared to compromise for big financial rewards from a company that doesn't get the difference. Even if the top people understand you, it's unlikely that those down the chain will. So should you stay and argue, make a tactical withdrawal or co-habit for a couple more years? How loud are the voices from your members and beneficiaries? You have to balance looking wet if you pull out against looking like a pawn of the company.

Q. My last job as chair of trustees was the appointment of the new chief executive. He came highly recommended and endured the scrutiny of the headhunters and board with flying colours. So I was surprised to read in the latest papers that he has turned over the entire senior management team in his first three months in the job. What's going on?

A. Some new chief executives have an unappetising need to mark territory to prove their manhood, whatever their gender. Your charity isn't large, but even so it has a reputation and disproportionate influence. Your new chief's haste and lack of consultation with the board is a sign of insecurity, indicating that he cannot risk acknowledging the inheritance, regardless of merits or deficiencies. It is insulting to his predecessors and his new colleagues. It implies that past generations (including you) got it wrong and wasted their time. It is also a reflection on the stewardship of the trustees. You know the hard question – have you made the right appointment? Now it's up to you and the board to work out the answer.

Q. I've managed a shop in the county town for my charity, a household name in health, for more than ten years. It has consistently turned in the best performance in the region. Six months ago, a regional head of shops was appointed at an eye-watering salary. Since then there has been a non-stop avalanche of bad edicts about everything from window displays to the corporate brand. Am I right to be angry?

A. It's understandable that after years of making your own luck you would find central control irksome. But to a big charity, brand discipline is crucial – although, sadly for you, it sometimes has to be at the expense of local initiative. Your charity's retail operation is equal to a small high-street chain; I can't think of one where local managers can decide on the look, the stock, the service standards and the margins. Can you?

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

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