Handing over the reins

As I hand over the role of Chair to my fellow trustee Philip Whalley and return to the back benches as trustee, it seems like a good time to reflect on the past 3 years working alongside Marianna and her small band of dedicated staff members. I can say with all honesty that in my 30 years as an arts professional, I have rarely encountered such a combination of creative vision and entrepreneurial acumen in one person as I have seen in Marianna. It has been such a pleasure to help her to deliver her vision and support the team of Stuart, Anna and the extended family of extremely dedicated OFA tutors, volunteers and, of course, NOFA players.

As I see it, my role as Chair has divided into three main categories: a) creating and managing an effective Board of trustees, b) fundraising and c) getting pretty involved in the day to day running of the organisation. Whilst I think the first two areas are very much a part of any Chair’s brief, I think it is true to say that the third category whilst not desirable from a Governance point of view, is pretty inevitable in a young, under-resourced and punching-above-its-weight charity. The fact that there is so much overlap with what I do in my “paid” work is probably a further factor but I am proud to think that in future, because of our successes in a) and b), that my successor will be able to play a much more arms-length role leading the Board.

Successes in a) and b) have taken time and I can certainly attest to the fact that fundraising and also Board development take a long time to get right and to start seeing real, long-term rewards. But once they start to come good and you continue to invest time and passion, they keep on giving and there is a real two-way transfer of benefits. I do believe our funders and our trustees get as much out of the relationship as the charity gets in, in time and money donated.

As a young charity, OFA has been phenomenally successful in raising money, mainly from trusts and individual donors but it is a hungry beast and no sooner had we celebrated one success than we were on to our next challenge and ever higher targets. Trusts are traditionally geared towards a preference for funding projects rather than overheads, and new ones for the most part, so salaries and unsexy running costs are an habitual challenge to fund.

I am delighted to be handing over the reins as Chair at a time when, for the first time, we have achieved the holy grail for a small charity - both Marianna and Stuart’s salaries are funded for the next year by a very visionary trust. This will give the organisation valuable time to stop chasing short-term funding and start bedding down to create long-term financial sustainability and resilience. These words are used so often these days as almost to lose their meaning but you have only to work with an organisation such as OFA to see how incredibly important they are once you get past the first 100m dash. We are now looking forward to the next 5 – 10 years with more confidence than ever before, looking at how we can work with ever more young people and helping them to feel the power of music making with others.