Oliver Reichardt: NCVO should bring democracy to choosing its new CEO

05 Feb 2021 Voices

Oliver Reichardt calls for NCVO members to have a say in the appointment of its next CEO

Karl Wilding has stepped down from arguably the top charity job after only 18 months.  I was as shocked as anyone else to hear the news, having seen how brilliant he is when I worked with him for five years at NCVO.

NCVO has made a big deal over the last 18 months about how it listens to its members and the wider sector, how it needs to do things differently, be closer to the ground and be more of a “community” as its interim CEO puts it in a blog this week.  Its new values are open, collaborative, inclusive and ambitious.

However the new CEO is going to be chosen the same old way, by a small group of people behind closed doors who will then proclaim their decision with an announcement to the rest of us waiting outside the door – a “search and selection process” as the chair puts it.  What could be less open, collaborative or inclusive?

The CEO of NCVO is the person who – more than anyone else - is in the room representing the sector to key people from the prime minister downwards.  More than any other role they are the “voice” of the sector who we all rely on to go in and argue on our behalf over the big issues that really matter.  Given that they are representing us all like this, why should they be chosen by a select group behind closed doors?  If NCVO really want to walk their talk of doing things differently, then nowhere should this be done more than in the selection of their CEO.

What I’m suggesting is that the new CEO should be chosen by a ballot of all NCVO members. Candidates can apply, there should be some basic checks, but then why not put it out to the membership.  This would bring significant advantages as the new CEO would have:

  • An immediate, large mandate from the sector for the vision they set out in their application
  • An immediate credibility and authority when representing the sector to government and others
  • Credibility within the sector itself.

For NCVO itself it would:

  • Engage NCVO’s membership in a way that has sometimes been severely lacking
  • Be a clear statement that NCVO does genuinely want to be an organisation that does things differently.

The main argument against is that some candidates may not want people, or their current organisation, to know they’re going for the job.  However this argument is weak.  Candidates will have to get used to an incredibly high level of exposure, what better way to test this.  And what board or chair would resent their CEO going for the top job.  I would hate to lose the brilliant CEO of the charity I chair, but if she went for the role I would not begrudge it in the slightest, whether she were successful or not.

There are other potential arguments against, such as the role needs the in-depth scrutiny of an interview panel, the chair needs to feel they can work with the CEO and so on, however any drawbacks are surmountable and comparatively small compared to the benefits a ballot would bring.

Yes, it’s different, yes it’s bold – but that’s what the sector desperately needs from NCVO.  We need it to live up to its new values of being open, collaborative and inclusive.  So I ask NCVO’s trustee board to be bold and ambitious and embrace this democratic way of choosing their new CEO.

Oliver Reichardt is CEO of  Royal College of Radiologists, chair at Sands (Stillbirth and Neo-natal Death Society) and trustee at Sustrans

Civil Society Voices is the place for informed opinion, and debate about the big issues affecting charities today. We’re always keen to hear from anyone, working or volunteering at a charity, who has something to say. Find out more about contributing and how to get in touch.


More on