Challenges facing Trustees and CEOs

When under strain, working relationships can be less effective, and a number of our charity clients are experiencing problems between Chief Executives and Boards:

CEOs refer to a void between themselves and the Chair/Board of Trustees.  Particularly challenging is managing upwards and not feeling confident and/or capable of influencing this dynamic.  We’re also seeing a growing frequency of clashes between executives and trustees - in many cases due to the common failing of being unable to see another side's point of view.  

Time and tools to understand how colleagues approach challenges are in short supply. Problems with boards are very frequent in our client base, whether it’s finding trustees with the right skills for the charity – lots of charities struggle to find good, motivated people and to address issues like diversity and inclusion. 

In some smaller organisations the founder can be a trustee, or even Chair, and can lack a diversity of views, as well as skilled trustees with the ability to ‘do’ stuff to get things moving.  This is not a new issue but one that organisations often struggle to get past. Finding the right people can be a problem in other volunteering, as well as trusteeship – finding volunteers with the right skills is a challenge as there’s a lot of competition for volunteers’ time.  

Although ‘founder syndrome’ is often a problem for charities, with founders absolutely dedicated to a cause, and sometimes resistant to change, charities can be vulnerable when a strong, energetic, dedicated founder retires or leaves the organisation.  Charities need to plan ahead and develop strategies to cover succession or merger to avoid crashing out of existence.

Chief Executives' Under Pressure

The role of Chief Executive of a small to medium size organisation can be difficult, needing to think strategically while often still being involved at an operational level – even at a service delivery level.  It’s hard for Chief Execs to take time – either simply to prioritise activities, or to take a strategic view – to scan the horizon and understand where their charity fits into its ecosystem.  Chief Executives are often battling to juggle the issue of organisational agility with financial viability.  For less experienced CEOs this can be a steep learning curve and understanding how or where to position the organisation for future sustainability is overwhelming and unclear.

It’s also difficult to resist mission drift - some CEOs welcome the opportunity to diversify their service delivery, embracing the challenge of having to restructure core operations to match the available financial envelope.  However, the balancing act between attracting funding and remaining aligned to their mission sometimes feels impossible.

Charities are under pressure to collaborate and not to duplicate activities, making the most of available resources.  CEOs are aware of the need to form strong collaborations with other charities, particularly to appeal to potential funders. However, the undercurrent to some of these interactions is the unspoken dynamic of competition, where CEOs are attentive to the survival of their own service, and collaboration can be lip service rather than offering genuine benefits. The feeling of loneliness among CEOs is another common theme, as CEOs describe a lack of peer support across the sector and the lack of funds available for membership to organisations who offer networking opportunities. 

If you are a charity CEO or senior manager and feel you would benefit from an independent Mentor, we have a certified mentoring programme, which is free to access.

To find out more, contact us on 01794 830338  or drop us an email

Registered Charity No: 800072 | Scottish Charity No: SCO40299 | Company No: 2290789 | Telephone No: 01794 830338
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