Peter Cardy: Is it worth insuring our reputation?

Our agony columnist on risk assessment, the attractions of trusteeship, freebies, contracts and fundraising by 'gentlemen's clubs'

Peter Cardy
Peter Cardy

Q. Given all the recent assaults on charities for doing what they are supposed to do, our board has raised the question of insuring against reputational damage. What do you think?

A. Insurance is probably available – at a price – for emergency response. But the best insurance will be your continuing risk assessment, alertness to signs of emerging stories and readiness to get on the front foot immediately. It would be a good use of the time of those likely to be most involved to run a disaster-recovery exercise. You can produce several plausible scenarios, have people play their normal roles and appoint a devil's advocate to avoid cosy solutions.

Q. I've been invited to become a trustee of a national charity, a cause to which I'm really committed for family reasons. But I've heard so much about trustees being in the firing line - should I take the risk?

A. I used to joke that the difference between my role as chief executive and the trustees' role was that when things went belly-up I merely lost my job while they went to prison. The dire warnings issuing from the Charity Commission suggest that being a well-meaning amateur is not enough and we could all be in the slammer soon. Somehow I doubt it; the commission has been thrashing around to regain some high ground. But even with its new powers, trustees who take the trouble to learn about their role and use good business sense are likely to be walking the streets for years to come. We need good trustees: go for it.

Q. One of our corporate supporters runs major sporting events around the world. On several occasions the head of the firm has invited me and my husband to attend these, with fares and all expenses paid. The next one is in a place we're very fond of and for once we can both find the time. Should we not be seen to support both the charity and our corporate friend?

A. Are you crazy? Thirty years ago it might have been acceptable - just - but now you will be seen to be freeloading. Social media and tabloids will eat you alive. Even if you pay your own way you risk being misunderstood. Watch it on the telly.

Q. Over the past decade or so the proportion of our funding from contracts grew to more than 80 per cent of our income. In the past couple of years it has plummeted to less than 40 per cent and it's continuing down, killing off services as it falls. Does this spell the end of voluntary action?

A. You make me feel so old! A couple of decades ago we were preoccupied with whether charities should take government funding at all and whether that would mean the end of independence. If you're looking into a financial abyss this will be no comfort: our worries were justified. Yet there remains a huge part of the voluntary sector that does not receive government funding and never has, and remains free to do what it thinks is important. Perhaps this is the time to rediscover independent voluntary action and stop being vassals of the state.

Q. Over the past few years the local bingo halls have done a lot of fundraising to support our forces veterans charity. Now a chain of so-called "gentlemen's clubs" wants to do the same. Should we refuse its offer?

A. It will be controversial with some, and the least you can say about these establishments is that they make women into objects and turn them into commodities. Supporting you might also be a way of laundering its business credentials. You have to balance your need for funds with your ethical position.

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

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