Peter Cardy: Lessons for the sector from President Trump

As well as the president of the USA, our resident agony expert offers advice on trustee vacancies, volunteers and non-profit hell

Peter Cardy
Peter Cardy

Q. I heard someone say that Trump is a gift to non-profit management education. What part of his behaviour could possibly be relevant?

A. How long have you got? Here are a few relevant points.

  • It's more effective to over-deliver than to over-promise.
  • If you plan to publicly diss your lieutenants, remember this: they know where the bodies are buried and where the knives are kept.
  • When you become the Big Enchilada, a lot of clever people will be waiting to pounce on your mistakes.
  • Try to understand the culture of the organisation you're running before you try to change it.
  • In government, simple, discrete actions are rarely possible. Everything is connected to everything else in unexpected ways.
  • Can you really manage more than 10 different fights all at once?
  • If you really must tweet, check and recheck, then wait a couple of hours before you hit send. But mostly hit delete.
  • Messaging at 4am makes you look obsessive and a bit crazy.
  • If you feel you have to tell lies, keep meticulous records of what you've lied about, to whom and when.
  • Remember that starting something is the easy part; it gets exponentially more complicated when you try to implement it.
  • Looking generous-minded is quite easy: looking mean-minded is even easier.
  • Blaming everyone else for your own misjudgements quickly wears thin.

And there are still four years of learning to go...

Q. We need to fill a trustee vacancy and one of our major donors has indicated she would be interested in doing more by joining the board. What do you think of this?

A. Keeping your supporters close seems like a good idea at first. It's not uncommon in US charities for board members to be required to make financial contributions. But how do you read your donor's motivation? Will she be able to remain disinterested, as all the guidance requires? Or will she want to exert influence on the running of the project she is funding? In the UK a more common approach is to form a major donors council, which can draw in other high-level supporters, but maintain a Chinese wall between them and the governing body.

Q. Did you hear Evan Davis's Bottom Line programme on charities on Radio 4 in February, still available on BBC iPlayer? If so, what did you think?

A. I thought I had died and gone to non-profit hell. Michael Grade of the Fundraising Regulator was full of ignorant preconceptions about charities: whoever told him there is a "normal" percentage of fundraising costs deserves to work for eternity in a drug-addiction charity. The spokespeople from the RNLI and the British Heart Foundation offered no challenge to Grade. Davis was disgracefully ill-informed and seemed to have done no homework except reading the Daily Mail.

Q. We are coming under pressure from our main funder and purchaser of services to have a more diverse board. Although it can't quite bring itself to spell it out, "diverse" is its code word for more women, black and minority ethnic people, and LGTB trustees. Here's the rub: we are an organisation of and for older, isolated men.

A. If ever I saw a definition of political correctness, this is it. You should protest in the strongest possible terms, privately at first, but go very public if you're still getting grief. Make sure your MP is behind you.

Sector veteran Peter Cardy offers answers to your workplace dilemmas. Send your questions to

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in