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Allsop's fables

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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
Allsops
2 Jul 2008

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

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Ian Allsop

Ian Allsop was editor of Charity Finance magazine from 2004 until early 2009. He is now a full-time father, taking on occasional PR jobs as well as continuing his role as Charity Awards Judge.

 

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