Turning points

27 Jun 2012 Voices

Ian Allsop finds himself on the wrong end of the ‘Give it up, Ian’ campaign.

Ian Allsop finds himself on the wrong end of the ‘Give it up, Ian’ campaign.

I had an idea for what I would write about this month. I thought it was a good idea. But I didn’t really bother discussing it with the people who would read it. Nevertheless I went ahead and started writing anyway.

When my readers realised what I was writing about they were up-in-arms, claiming that it would have disastrous consequences. But I didn’t want to stop writing it so I made some woolly claims about why I was writing what I was writing, that weren’t really backed by evidence. Even the Prime Minister’s office got involved, supporting my reasons for writing what I was writing.

I promised I would consult with my readers in the summer – but still they kept complaining. “Give it up, Ian”, they implored. I ploughed on for as long as possible until I could no longer sustain my sentences due to the noise. I did a U-turn on my writing, crossed it all out and went back to the beginning of my column. Which is where I am now.

Some people will without doubt see my U-turn as yet another example of a writer lacking confidence in his own writing, someone who started jotting words down without fully thinking through their impact.

However, others may view it as a brave decision from a writer who is willing and able to respond to the wishes of his readers. But for now I am moving on and writing about something else.

Apparently the whole episode has “shown my readers at their united, campaigning best”. But in reality they have wasted a lot of energy fighting something that should never have been considered as an idea for a column in the first place. Energy that could have been better spent on their own invaluable work.

Such as that showcased at the Charity Awards last month. What a tremendous night it was; a real celebration of the outstanding contribution made by charities, big and small, throughout the land.

At least I assume it was. At the time of writing it hasn’t actually taken place, and my copy deadline is before it does so. But perhaps it might be safer to rethink the Awards as a subject to muse upon and start again. Another U-turn.

If I was going to pretend to deliberate upon subject matter from the position of the final text that you are currently reading, in a way that would in reality be impossible at the time of writing, I’d now be flicking back through the preceding pages of Charity Finance [where this piece was first published] to comment on some of the issues contained within.

Such as law. It is tempting to deride the legal profession as a bunch of self-interested vultures (second only to bankers) helping create complicated sets of rules, which we must obey, and then charging exorbitant sums for advice on how to do so. But my lawyers have advised against it. They have also advised they might sue me if I refer to them as my lawyers when I don’t have any lawyers.

In truth, some of my best friends in the charity sector are lawyers so I have to be nice to them. Lawyers do a great job in guiding charities through the complexities of charity law and the arsenal of legal bombshells in all areas in which they operate.

So, to avoid the risk of this whole piece being redacted for legal reasons, I feel I must U-turn once more, back to where I started, at the birth of the column.

Continued failing

Speaking of births, on pages 38-39 of Charity Finance there is some fascinating stuff on the life-cycle of charities and identifying whether they are at risk of declining health.

Recognising where one’s organisation may be on its lifecycle is a valuable part of assessing whether it is meeting its objectives. Is it doing what it set out to do, or has it drifted; existing only for itself and seeking funding merely to survive and struggle on?

It would be interesting to ponder whether the whole charity sector could be plotted over the centuries in life-cycle terms.

There is an argument to say that while the sector continues to do valuable work, the very fact it is still necessary – and increasingly vibrant – reflects a continued failing of the society in which it operates. Especially if the sector will be expected to pick up even more of the pieces over the coming years.

Sometimes decline may be the sign of a truly successful charity. One that has reached the end of its life and is able to ‘die with dignity’ rather than struggling on, or ‘U-turning’ away from its original purpose.

Magazine columns might similarly be assessed in much the same way. I will leave you to decide the stage that this one has reached on its own life-cycle. 

This article was first published in Charity Finance magazine in July 2012.


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