Excuse me. Would you mind? For charity. A little something. Oh, it's like that, is it?

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The Independent Online

May I take just a little of your time?

I want to talk to you today about Princess Diana.

It was said that, when she was alive, you could double the circulation of a magazine just by putting her on the cover.

In a sense, that is what I have done by putting her name at the top of this article. You saw her name and started reading.

So it still works.

But that is not what I want to talk to you about today.

I want to talk to you about the very real and valuable work that she did for many charities.

Charities which are still benefiting enormously from her work. Unlike the charities which she didn't support.

Those many, many charities which she didn't support and which have seen their funds go down both in her lifetime and since she died.

Yes, for every charity which gained from her attention, there are three or four which suffered because of her lack of attention. You could say, I suppose, that Princess Diana did more harm than good to charities in this country.

But that is not what I want to talk to you about today.

What I want to talk to you about is what happens to a charity when it finds that its income is going down and that its very valuable work is being curtailed because of lack of funds.

Not necessarily because of Diana, Princess of Wales.

What does it do then?

Either it goes out of business or it hires a very clever person called a fund-raiser.

I wonder if you have ever come across a fund-raiser.

He or she is a person who comes in and, for a price, organises events and public relations so that the public becomes aware of the charity and hands over lots of lolly, or organises high-profile, glittering society affairs which rake in lots of moolah from the upper crust.

For instance, whoever got the BBC to back Children In Need was a pretty good fund-raiser.

Whoever invented flag days was a pretty damned good fund-raiser, even if the idea has become a little devalued.

Whoever persuaded the British that it was a fun idea to put squashed plastic tomatoes on the front of their car bonnets was a genius of a fund- raiser in his own way.

Or her way, of course.

But there comes a time when fund-raisers start to run out of ideas.

When they start to get tired.

When the old magic that has served them so well begins to desert them, and they take on one charity too many.

Sometimes you read in the paper that a gigantic celebrity auction or a vintage aeroplane fly-past has failed to attract people, and made a huge loss.

That is because some legendary fund-raiser has just lost the knack.

Oh, they can go on for a while.

They can raise funds for smaller charities, and they can assist other fund-raisers who still have the gift.

But sooner or later the day comes when even the bravest fund-raiser has to admit that the jig is up, and that the time has come to throw in the towel.

What does a charity fund-raiser on the scrap-heap do?

What hope is there for a down-and-out charity organiser.

What hope can you offer to someone whose only talent is for phoning up and saying, "Darling you must get two tickets for the most wonderful ball I'm organising!" or, "Sir Edward, I know you won't refuse when I ask you to donate an unwanted conductor's baton to people who deserve it more than you do, and who - let's face it - can probably conduct better than you can!"

There is no hope for such people.

Except that offered by the Former Fund-Raisers Fellowship.

This wonderful organisation is the only one that is specifically designed to help ex-charity geniuses down on their luck.

Our motto is: "Once upon a time they blackmailed you into buying tickets for charity affairs you had no intention of going to and where you were bored silly and spent too much on the raffle. Now they would like to apologise and, if it's not too late, ask you for some more money, but for themselves this time."

It's not a great motto.

In fact, it's a lousy slogan.

But when you're a bunch of clapped out fund-raisers, it's the best you can come up with.

The Former Fund-Raisers Fellowship desperately needs funds to continue its work at its retirement home in the New Forest, where we can house fund-raisers whose nerve has gone and who cannot hear the word Gala or Celebrity without sobbing.

So, please won't you give generously?

Well, just a little?



We really have lost the knack, haven't we?