“MY Charity” for Room 101 by Steve Woollett, Director of Clarity CIC

This is a companion piece to last Friday’s blog by Clarity CIC Associate, Jacqui Wolstenholme. In this blog, Steve Woollett, Director of Clarity CIC, considers one aspect of ‘motive’ in establishing a new charity.

The article is titled:

“My Charity” for Room 101

Am I alone in being increasingly irritated by people who refer to charities they have helped set up as “my charity”? This turn of phrase seems rather self promoting to me. Look what a good hearted, philanthropic and wonderful person I am; I don’t just give to charity I have set one up too! But it’s not their charity; they don’t own it.

It’s not just members of the royal family, celebrities and millionaires who reference “their” charities; There are plenty of “ordinary” individuals who have this sense of ownership and possession.  Don’t get me wrong – I generally have absolutely no problem with the issues that the majority of new charities established by individuals that reflect their own personal passions and concerns, are addressing  In most cases – good for them, though I do wonder whether their efforts and money might not be better applied, at least in some cases, to supporting or expanding the work of existing charities.

In fact, I am far more enthusiastic about charities that arise from personal individual experience and determination than those that reflect the cynical ploys of government to shift agencies out of state ownership and responsibility. Think the old British Waterways Board – now the Canal & River Trust (charity no. 1146792.). 

However, this sense of personal ownership of charities causes me deeper concerns. It is definitely worrying if those who have been instrumental in setting up a charity and, quite naturally,  become one of the (perhaps small number of) trustees, maybe also the Chair, come to regard it as their personal fiefdom. That doesn’t bode well for good governance, financial probity, user engagement, collaboration and basing their work on good evidence of need and their effectiveness of their interventions.

Founders of charities may need reminding that charities existing for public benefit and trustees must always act in the interests of the charity, which may well be different to their own.

So, maybe those initiators of new charities could simply talk about “the charity I helped establish” or, if they must, “the charity I set up”.  And reflect their responsibility, rather than their sense of proprietorship, in how the organisation is governed and run.”

Clarity CIC‘s mission is to enable social purpose organisations, including community groups, charities and social enterprises to be effective, sustainable and well-run. We help organisations solve everyday problems, build their own capability, think and act strategically and demonstrate the value of their work.

(Room 101 is derived from George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is also the title of a BBC comedy television series based on the radio series of the same name, in which celebrities are invited to discuss their pet hates and persuade the host to consign those hates to oblivion.)