I’ve worked for myself now for almost 30 years. Apart from my wife, there is nobody to tell me what to do. This gives me the freedom to follow my nose and get involved with projects that interest me. It also means there is nobody to turn to when confronted by challenge. I have to rely on my own judgement, experience and ability to seek advice.
Over the years I’ve been on a number of Boards, both as a charity Trustee and also as shareholder in for profit businesses. I’ve also worked extensively with charity CEOs, helping them reduce their organisation’s reliance on grant or public funding. Right now I’m also a charity Patron and Chair an ella forum. So I feel qualified to say that being a charity CEO is quite unlike running a for profit business.
An exasperated charity CEO recently wrote in the Guardian of his despair at the lack of professionalism amongst his Trustees. He wrote; ‘there is something inherently Victorian about an assorted group of volunteers taking control in a context in which they risk very little.’ He has my sympathy as I too have seen some appalling errors of judgement made by Trustee Boards. In one case, this resulted in the founder and CEO leaving the orgaisation under an ill-deserved cloud.
I’m not convinced that private sector Boards are always that better. Family firms in particular can suffer from having Board members thrust upon them whose only qualification is genetic. And of course the press has been rightly critical of plc Board members who put self-interest ahead of that of the organisation.
But however good or bad your Board, when the biscuits are finished they return to their everyday lives, leaving you alone at the helm of your organisation. And this is where the real difference between third and for profit sectors really shows.
As a charity CEO you’ll have made an emotional investment in your cause. Your concern for those you support will go deeper than anything a corporate CEO will experience. You do what you do because you care, deeply and unconditionally about the work your organisation does. The formal buck might stop with your Chair, but as the poem Invictus states; you are the master of your fate and the captain of your soul.
Robert Ashton is a social entrepreneur, author and an ella group Chair www.robertashton.co.uk