Viewpoint: Don't just turn your back on the past

It's important to maintain links with retiring trustees who have given so much of their time.

What do you do when a long-standing trustee retires? At Aspire, we have just lost the final one of our founders after 25 years - the doctor whose whole approach to the treatment and rehabilitation of people with spinal cord injuries gave the charity its distinctive ethos. There are the usual heartfelt speeches round the trustees' table, the exchange of even warmer letters - and then ...?

Family feeling

Since trustees are essentially giving their time, expertise and contacts for nothing, I have always tried to engender a kind of family feeling at our meetings. So when someone leaves - in this case a man who started off as 'the daddy' and evolved into 'the wise old uncle' - there is an instinctive need to maintain contact. Otherwise, it feels a bit like packing your granny off to a home and never thinking about her again.

Aspire has a distinguished set of vice-presidents who are, essentially, the departing trustees we couldn't quite bear to wave off. The trouble is, some of our sharper departees have asked: "And what do I have to do as a vice-president?"

"Well," I stutter, "nothing much, but we will want to keep in touch and come to you for wisdom."

Each year, the Christmas card arrives and still they haven't been called out to dispense the aforementioned wisdom.

You can call it sentimentality, a refusal to let go.

Alternatively, it could be called a sense of history. I believe that any organisation that loses touch with its own past inevitably loses something more - and this is especially true of charities, which thrive precisely because those involved contribute over and above what they might in a 'normal' job.

Respect your elders

So perhaps the problem lies not with the vice-president designation, nor with my seeming inability to say goodbye, but with the arrogance of a new generation that feels it can learn nothing from those who have gone before us.

Only in China and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church do they confer status on the elderly.

We need to learn the lesson.

At the same time, however, we must remember the basic rule of involvement in charities: the cause is always bigger than any individual. There will come a time when we all have to take our leave and what we want most is for the organisation to continue to flourish.

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