Allsop's fables

Allsop's fables

Allsop's fables2

Finance | Ian Allsop | 1 Jul 2008

Ian Allsop looks for lessons from classic Greek literature.

Recently I used this space to address the question of what I actually do in my job. Another question that I have never been asked but have long thought hard about my answer to, should the eventuality occur, is “So Mr Editor, you write a lot about charities, but what causes do you support? What do you give back?” I considered using my response as the basis for this month’s piece but decided that a man’s personal charity contribution is between him and what his wife tells him to give to. Besides, there is a risk that my efforts might be so derisory that the copy would struggle to reach half way down this page, or that my bottomless generosity and tireless commitment smacked of unattractive bragging. And possibly lying.

I will just say that I have come dangerously close to snapping “do you know what I do?” when approached by society’s more, how shall I put this, persistent and dogged fundraisers. That would make me the press equivalent of a c-list celebrity trying to gain access to a party with the “do you know who I am?” line and thankfully I have resisted.

I can also reveal that I was strangely disappointed when I found out that the child we sponsor in Malawi was called Derek. I expected something more exotic but was cheered somewhat when I discovered his brother was called Eric.

Another question I have felt the need to compose an answer to that I will never have to use is “What will you call your memoirs?” During my more carefree days it would have been “I’m only staying for one” in honour of my willpower suddenly deserting me in the face of good intentions when going out after work. These days I would go for “Allsop’s Fables”. And looking at the list of works from the Greek master, their timelessness is apparent, with many echoes of some of the current stories and issues within charity land.

Consider the crow and the pitcher. The crow comes up with a creative solution to drink from a pitcher by throwing pebbles into it and bringing up the water levels. The moral of the story is that with planning, you can gain what at first seems impossible, which resonates with a lot of the great things inspirational charities have been able to achieve. Particularly Excellent Development, overall winner at the Charity Awards last month, which uses sand dams, not pebbles, to aid access to water in parts of Kenya.

The ant and the grasshopper is a moral lesson about hard work and preparation, and the importance of storing up food for winter – a bit like a prudent charity ensuring it has enough reserves for when funding unexpectedly runs out.

In the hare and the tortoise, slow and steady wins the race, and interesting parallels can be drawn with the two sides in the debate about Futurebuilders’ recent change of direction in getting funding out quickly, instead of taking a more patient approach.

In the mice in council fable, a group of mice declare that the only way to avoid the dangerous cat is to tie a bell around its neck in order to give warning whenever it is near. But who will perform the dangerous task? The moral of the story being that it is easy to suggest difficult solutions if the individual(s) in question are not the ones who have to implement them. But I am sure that no charity executives reading this have such problems with fulfilling the expectations of their boards.

The dog and the wolf cautions that it is better to starve free than be a fat slave, or in other words, beware engaging with government on public service delivery. And the lion and the mouse (he loved an animal did Aesop) teaches us that little friends may prove great friends. A reminder that while the super charities dominate the sector in terms of brand awareness and income (the lion’s share – another Aesop potboiler), small charities are also valuable.

There are many examples of  charities being warned not to kill the goose who lays the golden egg whenever concerns about overdoing fundraising techniques are raised, while the miser and his gold reminds us that wealth unused might as well not exist, a useful message when prospecting from potential wealthy philanthropists.

The boy who cried wolf has an obvious message for all those concerned about trust and confidence, and fee charging charities, particularly independent schools, will be hoping that the Charity Commission’s constructive approach to engaging with them on the vexed public benefit question won’t turn out to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Or a hind.

Finally the mischievous dog advises us that we shouldn’t mistake notoriety for fame, but I can’t think of any examples of sector personalities that fit this off the top of my head. Or if I could I would be far too polite to actually name them.

Wendy Howard
21 Jan 2013

We are very keen to obtain a copy of the original allsops fable. My partner now 70 is wanting a copy forbhis grandchildren like hbhad as a child.

David Allsop
Chief executive
2 Jul 2008

This is a brilliant piece. The author should be promoted immediately.


[Cancel] | Reply to:

Close »

Community Standards

The community and comments board is intended as a platform for informed and civilised debate.

We hope to encourage a broad range of views, however, there are standards that we expect commentators to uphold. We reserve the right to delete or amend any comments that do not adhere to these standards.

We welcome:

  • Robust but respectful debate
  • Strongly held opinions
  • Intelligent relevant discussion
  • The sharing of relevant experiences
  • New participants

We will not publish:

  • Rude, threatening, offensive, obscene or abusive language, or links to such material
  • Links to commercial organisations or spam postings. The comments board is not an advertising platform
  • The posting of contact details for yourself or others
  • Comments intended for malicious purpose or mindless abuse
  • Comments purporting to be from another person or organisation under false pretences
  • Gratuitous criticism, commentary or self-promotion
  • Any material which breaches copyright or privacy laws, or could be considered libellous
  • The use of the comments board for the pursuit or extension of personal disputes

Be aware:

  • Views expressed on the comments board are left at users’ discretion and are in no way views held or supported by Civil Society Media
  • Comments left by others may not be accurate, do not rely on them as fact
  • You may be misunderstood - sarcasm and humour can easily be taken out of context, try to be clear


  • Enjoy the opportunity to express your opinion and respect the right of others to express theirs
  • Confine your remarks to issues rather than personalities

Together we can keep our community a polite, respectful and intelligent platform for discussion.

Ian Allsop

Ian Allsop is a freelance journalist and editor specialising in not-for-profit management and financial issues.

Ian Allsop (66) John Tate (59) David Davison (51) Robert Ashton (40) Andrew Hind CB (24) Tania Mason (23) Gordon Hunter (17) Daniel Phelan (15) David Ainsworth (15) Vibeka Mair (12)
David Philpott (10) Niki May Young (8) Rui Domingues (8) Celina Ribeiro (7) Andrew Chaggar (5) James Brooke Turner (4) Sir Stuart Etherington (4) Kate Sayer (3) Jeremy Swain (3) Garreth Spillane (3) Alistair Gibbons (3) Ian Clark (3) Claris D'cruz (2) Stephen Lloyd (2) Richard Maitland (2) Adrian Beney (2) Iain Pritchard (2) Pauline Broomhead (2) Martin Brookes (2) Tesse Akpeki (2) Nick Brooks (2) Stephen Hammersley (2) Rosie Chapman (2) Geetha Rabindrakumar (2) June O'Sullivan (2) Kirsty Weakley (2) Dan Corry (2) Peter Holbrook (2) Belinda Pratten (2) Simon Steeden (2) Jonathan Bruck (2) Dan Gregory (2) Carolyn Sims (2) Making Good: The Future of the Voluntary Sector (2) Mark Astarita (1) Don Bawtree (1) Sir Stephen Bubb (1) Victoria Cook (1) Lindsay Gray (1) Rachel Holmes (1) Nick Ivey (1) Iona Joy (1) John Kelly (1) Michael King (1) Heather Lamont (1) Lucy McLynn (1) Chris Oulton (1) Julian Rathbone (1) Socrates Socratous (1) Richard Weaver (1) Karl Wilding (1) Richard Williams (1) Roger Chester (1) Matthew Bowcock (1) Joe Saxton (1) Reuben Turner (1) Martin Farrell (1) Paul Gibson (1) Jonathon Grapsas (1) Andrew Scadding (1) Simon Hebditch (1) Su Sayer (1) Debra Allcock Tyler (1) Martin Birch (1) Mark Hallam (1) Jonathan Lewis (1) Sara Llewellin (1) John Low (1) Dame Mary Marsh (1) Ruth Murphy (1) Colin Nee (1) Julia Unwin (1) Kate Rogers (1) Malcolm Hayday (1) Filippo Addarii (1) Kimberley Scharf (1) Jakes Ferguson (1) Jessica Sklair (1) Joe Turner (1) John May (1) Julian Blake (1) Andy Williamson (1) Malcolm Hurlston (1) Andrew Samuel (1) Chester Mojay-Sinclare (1) Paul Amadi (1) Luke Fletcher (1) Peter Mitchell (1) Billy Dove (1) Andrew Ketteringham (1) Jackie Turpin (1) Lynne Robb (1) Jonathan Crown (1) Paul Emery (1) Ruchir Shah (1) Pesh Framjee (1) Sukhvinder Kaur-Stubbs (1) Moira Protani (1) Vicki Prout (1) Michael O'Toole (1) Dawn Austwick (1) Lisa Clavering (1) Paul Farmer (1) Neelam Makhijani (1) Logan Anderson (1) Andy Rich (1) Sharon Martin (1) Asheem Singh (1) Leigh Daynes (1) Abdurahman Sharif (1) Lynne McMahon (1) Richard Caulfield (1) Ashley Horsey (1) Andrew O'Brien (1)
Less +++ More +++

Social Charity Spy: Scope launches spoof video for charity shop donation drive

3 Jul 2015

Both Scope and Terrence Higgins Trust have produced eye-catching videos to highlight their current campaigns...

Social Charity Spy: St Gemma's Hospice's wedding dress appeal goes viral

12 Jun 2015

This week a social media call-out leads to an unexpected windfall for St Gemma’s Hospice, Plan UK launch...

Could charities be hoodwinked by technology?

1 Jun 2015

Polling errors at the general election show that human judgement is still critical in using digital technology,...

Society is changing in ways that have specific consequences for volunteering

22 Jun 2015

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, explains why charities need to respond to changes in...

Society Diary: Miley Cyrus takes off her clothes, cuddles a pig and talks about charity

12 Jun 2015

Our weekly round-up of interesting and outlandish information, collected from the corners of the charity...

Is it time for charities to fight back on chief executive pay?

10 Jun 2015

The charity sector has suffered in silence through repeated attacks on its leaders over their pay, but...