‘Don’t be afraid to probe,’ says new ACEVO guide for applicants to charity CEO roles

27 Jan 2020 News

ACEVO has published a guide to the “questions to ask before taking on a new CEO role”, encouraging applicants to thoroughly research a charity before becoming its chief executive.

The membership body for charity leaders worked with the consultant Ann Frye on the guide, which addresses a series of key topics and areas of the organisation applicants should be ask about. It was put together after consulting charity CEOs, chairs and recruitment experts.

A two-way conversation

While organisations always assess candidates thoroughly before appointing a new chief executive, applicants do not always spend as much time making sure the organisation is right for them. This can lead to them facing “unexpected challenges” once they take up the role, ACEVO says.

The guide contains a list of questions aspiring CEOs should ask an organisation, but also encourages them to do their own research.

Advice ranges from very straightforward suggestions, like asking about financial accounts and fundraising, to more quirky strategies, such as checking out the trustees on social media or dropping into a charity shop and asking volunteers what they think about the charity.

The guide says that while it is natural that sensitive information would only be shared in a more advanced phase of the recruitment process, candidates should not be afraid to ask questions or “probe”, and trustees should be transparent with them.

Frye writes in the guide: “For it to be most successful, the recruitment process must be a two-way conversation: as a candidate, you need to feel confident to share any anxieties, and in return, the organisation must be given space to interrogate and respond to your concerns.”

'You need to feel confident you have enough information'

Vicky Browning, chief executive of ACEVO, said: “At ACEVO, we’ve seen too many examples of newly appointed CEOs who get their feet under the desk, only to find that all is not as it had seemed. 

“Whether you’re an experienced civil society CEO wanting to seek a new challenge, a senior leader looking for your first chief executive role or someone coming into the voluntary sector from the private or public sectors, you need to feel confident you have enough information about the job you’re applying for to decide whether or not it is for you.”

The guide was sponsored by search and leadership advisory firm Saxton Bamfylde and can be downloaded from ACEVO's website. It is free for ACEVO members and £12 for non-members. 

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