Peter Cardy: Have no illusions about fundraising

Don't expect a role in charities to be easier than the private sector, warns our columnist

Peter Cardy
Peter Cardy

Q: Since I graduated, I've had several sales jobs in specialist companies. I've done quite well, but I'm thinking about a move into fundraising in the third sector, where I could use my skills for the good of others. I think I would enjoy working for charitable goals instead of the target and profit-driven environment of industry.

A: Be under no illusion: if you go into charity fundraising, you'll certainly be target-driven and you might find the job and the environment even tougher. Whether a charity is good to work for does not depend on the altruistic mission, but on the people, the chemistry and the management style - the same things you've experienced in industry.

The rewards for hitting targets are mostly intangible, but the sanctions for failure are just the same.

Q: In the wake of the failure of Kids Company, there is lots of worry about charities having insufficient reserves or liquidity to see them through lean times. But is it right that a charity that has very small future commitments and regular income flows keeps 10 times its annual expenditure in reserve? When I challenged the chair of trustees about this, he said the charity kept it to even out its cash flow and provide a cushion if events failed - but the model is such that if its events fail, its costs are negligible anyway. It looks like small-minded hoarding to me.

A: It's the trustees' responsibility to decide on reserve levels, but it seems miserly to hoard money instead of using it to pursue the charity's objects and develop its programmes, or support other bodies with similar objects. I deduce from what you've told me that it's millions rather than thousands - so it looks, well, gross.

Q: I've just been appointed chief executive of a technology charity, and the more I learn about it the more I think I might have made a dreadful mistake. I simply don't understand the technicalities: I was hopeless at science at school - I did a degree in literature - and when the specialists start talking to me I just go blank.

A: If they had wanted another specialist at the top of the charity they would have appointed one. Your job is to manage the organisation, not the technology. Make the techies slow down, speak in your language and explain until you understand them. If you can learn enough to hold an intelligent conversation with the specialists, that will make everyone feel good. If you learn more, don't disillusion the specialists - and don't try to second-guess them.

Q: Our large HQ building is a city centre oasis in the midst of a parking desert.

Our basement car park has 100 spaces and it is full Monday to Friday. The annual lease cost is £100k and the commercial operators of the other three floors make at least £350k annually.

A: You've been asleep at the wheel. Who else apart from bankers is subsidising pollution? Do the sums, tell your people the financial facts, give them six months' notice of the parking charge you will levy through the payroll and grant no exemptions. Then lease out the car park and put the money towards your cause.

Q: Do you think good managers are born or made? I try hard and I've completed an MBA, but I'm in constant doubt about whether I measure up.

A: Self-doubt isn't a bad thing, but don't take it too far; management skills can be learned. Flair makes the difference and it's harder to acquire. Good managers get things done. The best managers are those who can effortlessly get people to do things they didn't know they wanted to do. When you can do that, you've arrived.

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

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