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Monica Brown: Is your charity's leadership encouraging resilience?

06 Sep 2017 Expert insight

An environment where leadership is identified and encouraged throughout the organisation creates a more resilient charity, says Monica Brown from the Charities Aid Foundation.

For many small charities an “all hands on deck approach” is a badge of honour. With personnel from the chief executive, (if they have one), to volunteers rolling their sleeves up and diving in, to deliver the best services possible to their beneficiaries. This should come as no surprise as the charity’s reason for existing is usually born out of the need to do something, to right a wrong, level the playing field or bridge a gap…..take action! However, as the need for those services grow and the charity evolves, effective leadership is key to ensuring success.

As the chief executive/director of such a charity, with limited resources, a growing need and reliance on your efforts, how do you balance your personal contributions with your leadership responsibility towards the organisation as a whole? Is it more important that you step in to deliver those services when staffing is scarce, or spend time networking with potential supporters or other charity leaders? All too often the temptation is to step in.

However whilst charity leadership has many facets, the most senior role must create the environment and time to strategise and work closely with the governance structure, to stay on mission, secure resources, raise the organisation’s profile and articulate the impact of their work. This essential leadership role can be the difference between short term gains and long term survival. It is common sense that the most senior role holds much of that leadership responsibility; however, leadership is not an exclusive domain. Some would argue that creating an environment where leadership is identified and encouraged throughout the organisation creates a more resilient charity. 

A strong operational lead, who feels empowered to be operational through the provision of a clear organisational mission and agreed team/personal objectives, should not have to wait for assistance from the top to deliver the best services possible. Such a person can overcome many obstacles when challenged, and is best placed to articulate how things could be improved with a list of possible solutions to try whilst still delivering. 

Leadership shared in the charity context is a powerful approach. Charities are often under-resourced but, given the vulnerabilities of their beneficiaries, must strive to deliver the best services possible.  I would argue that it’s not the best course of action for the most senior role to step in and fill that gap in resource. This is a false economy. Recruiting and inducting well at all levels then trusting people to play to their strengths and lead can often be the solution to this challenge.  A charity CEO who is comfortable sharing the leadership space will find they are rewarded with the time to truly be chief executive - external facing, advocating, and income generating - bringing in much needed funds and resources to safeguard the delivery of services.

Monica Brown is head of charityn advisory and programmes at Charities Aid Foundation

Civil Society wishes to thank Charities Aid Foundation for its support with this article

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