Readers' Letters: Foundations could do more to consider their efforts collectively

Plus: the pros and cons of amateurs on the board, and fair remuneration for senior staff

Barrow Cadbury: founder of the trust that bears his name
Barrow Cadbury: founder of the trust that bears his name

More feedback and transparency will help foundations improve...

With regard to your article about trusts and foundations, the unequal power dynamic between those that have the money and those that need it to achieve social change can be extremely frustrating for fundraisers and charities.

Feedback is important, but research by the Directory of Social Change indicates that a third of funders don't provide feedback on unsuccessful applications and 40 per cent will not engage in dialogue before applications are made to them. This is definitely a barrier to improving matters.

Foundations support their causes and beneficiaries for historical reasons but also, to some extent, based on evidence. They are independent charities but could do more to consider their efforts collectively – particularly over where funding is targeted.

Over the past decade I've noticed a cultural shift among foundations, certainly in terms of improving transparency. There has also been a growing recognition that although they might have the resources, they don't necessarily have all the answers.

Trustees are custodians of the money and must ensure it is spent judiciously and responsibly; but there is scope for foundations to take greater risks to achieve better results in the long term.

Tom Traynor, head of research, Directory of Social Change, Liverpool

...and an egalitarian approach will serve beneficiaries better

I read with interest your article about trusts and foundations. The recent report, Supporting Social Change: A New Funding Ecology, produced by Collaborate, has forced open an aching wound in the voluntary sector: namely, that trusts and foundations are dominated by an archaic attitude of benevolence, rather than one of common cause.

It is easy to underestimate how much the voluntary sector actually belongs to the people, rather than philanthropists. When a cause matters to them, they rally around it.

When I was chief executive of the Barrow Cadbury Trust, I saw the power of self-help and the humble role of supporting and facilitating collective response. This is even more true now. As old hierarchies crumble and people no longer doff their caps, beneficiaries become users and, increasingly, curators.

For charities, this means reviewing internal power structures and remaining close to the people they serve. For major funders, it means keeping an eye on emerging threats, remaining accessible and continuing to promote egalitarian relationships. Without these, there is a risk that the charity model becomes increasingly inapt. Nineteenth-century concepts of benefactor and beneficiary smack of the stigma of the poor laws and evoke an archaic distinction between privileged and unprivileged. Empowered by Twitter, bolstered by choice and driven by compassion, we are all more equal now.

Sukhvinder Kaur-Stubbs, managing director, Engage – Building Networks of Trust, London SE3

It's logical that responsibility should bring fair remuneration

It was good that Sylvia Smith found time to contribute to the debate on charity salaries. However, I must correct one assumption she made about my letter of the previous month. I did not and would never say that "money is the key motivator". I can honestly say that in my 37 years in this sector I've not met one person for whom that has been the case.

The charity sector employs close to one million people, and if we expect many of them to manage staff and be the guardians of millions of pounds, we must have fair remuneration.

As Smith points out, charities do attract unpaid volunteers, but often these are people who are employed and volunteer in their spare time, or are retired and have pensions to live on.

Smith accuses me of substituting rational argument for an emotional attack. In my view, it is rational to question the logic of lawyers working for a firm specialising in charities being paid the going rate but being expected to earn a lot less if they work directly for a charity.

Valerie Morton, fundraiser and consultant, Cambridge

Are amateurs a mixed blessing?

I agree with the general thrust of Peter Stanford's article in the June issue of Third Sector, but I think the language is unhelpful. Amateur does not imply competence, but lack of payment. The language suggests payment equals competence and volunteer equals incompetent. That is a dangerous mindset to perpetuate.

Rob Jackson, consultant, Lynch Wood, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire

Some boards appoint chief executives who lack expertise in the charity's core tasks because they believe they need a charismatic leader or someone with a grip on finances. This might make it difficult to appoint expert staff at other levels. This problem is exacerbated if the chief executive hesitates to recommend new trustees with superior specialist knowledge.

Wally Harbert Frome, Somerset

Please send letters to or Third Sector, Teddington Studios, Broom Road, Teddington TW11 9BE

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