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Charity Chief Executives - Jack of all trades and Master of all trades too

I have recently been reflecting on the role of charity Chief Executive Officers, which I wanted to share with you.

Now I reckon my working week is similar to most charity CEOs – it is jam-packed. But it isn’t the amount of work that got me thinking, rather it’s the breath of the issues I deal with.

Let me explain. In the last fortnight I’ve been working flat out. From writing policies to having a meeting with a potential funder; I also had discussions with trustees, met with the accountant, wrote a response to a Green Paper consultation and some fundraising bids, completed a governance review, undertook staff supervision sessions, drafted an expense policy and our charity’s budgets, ran payroll and updated the charity’s website and social media.

So, at last count, I’ve dealt with issues relating to Governance, staff management, HR, Finance, Legal, Policy, Marketing and Fundraising. In larger charities, much of this work would be undertaken by Department Heads working within their own specialisms. However, I don’t think it’s unusual for CEOs of smaller charities to be responsible for all those functions. Plus we also make the coffee too!

So being a charity CEO feels like being a Jack of all trades and Master of all trades too!

But what I have noticed through meeting other CEOs or charity managers recently, is that many feel isolated and burnt out. From dealing with staff that you manage and the Board to whom you report, it’s a lonely role and one where you seem to absorb the work that staff and trustees either can’t or won’t undertake.

Here are some tips which I hope will help charity CEOs with their roles:

  1. Make your diary your best friend. Plan your time well. Remember to diarise time for thinking and planning too, because you need headspace to be effective.

  2. Be centred. With so much going on at a busy charity, it’s easy to get straight into work each morning and allow stress to build up. But I find it helps to start the day calmly. I have begun to use the “Headspace” app for a quick 5 minutes of meditation before the working day kicks in.

  3. Give support. Effectively support your staff and volunteers by devoting time and setting targets so they know your expectations. Plot in meetings with staff, so they have dedicated supervision times which helps reduce the amount of “Can I just ask you?” interruptions in your time.

  4. Work hard. It’s important to set an example for others in the charity. But I’ve learned to limit the late nights working at home and I switch away from work emails on my phone after 7pm.

  5. Be kind to yourself. Most CEOs I’ve met are perfectionists. Remember perfection isn’t everything – sometimes just being “good enough” is all you need when you’re juggling with so many high priority matters. So, when need’s be, compromise on your perfectionist tendencies.

  6. Don’t absorb everything. Staff may try to upwardly delegate tasks and you may find that the Board has given you several new action points following the latest meeting. So, draw the boundaries clearly. There will be times when you need to remind the Board some matters cannot be delegated. You’ll also need to coach your staff to act up into their roles by building up their confidence and allowing them to take ownership of their areas.

  7. Get help if you need it. Obtain a good working knowledge of most areas, but don’t be afraid to ask the Board for specialist advice or training.

  8. Find a mentor. It’s so useful for having an outsider’s perspective on your work. I found my mentor through the Small Charities Coalition for free. (Check out

  9. Peer support is useful. Join a network of other CEOs, maybe through your local CVS or ACEVO. It’s really useful to share and learn from other CEOs.

  10. Enjoy your work and keep the family feel in your charity. Simple things matters in a small charity. Get a good coffee machine and ensure there’s plenty of biscuits. I’ve really introduced a weekly fruit bowl for my team, who love it!

It is a great privilege to lead a charity, although the remit of what’s expected in the role is certainly broad. I really hope these tips are useful and help other CEOs, especially those new into their role.

Hopefully by looking after yourself, you can pace the workload, as well as taking care of your own well-being.

If you feel you need help, please do contact me at:

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