The Challenges of Becoming a New Charity CEO

by | Jun 4, 2024 | Community

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Those working in the charity sector understand that it is busy and constant, and every day is different, with most charity managers wearing various hats to manage these everyday activities.

Taking this a step further and becoming CEO of a small charity with a small team (and we mean really small team), well, it’s a lot to get your teeth into.

It is a significant role that runs 24/7, and sometimes we can get caught up in the running and the overwhelm to constantly achieve without sometimes taking a step back to breathe.

In one of our Charitea and Biscuit episodes, we caught up with Faye Mellors, CEO of The Suit Works, to chat about some of the challenges that charity CEOs face and some of the ways you can overcome these.

Charity CEO Challenges

Becoming a charity CEO can mean stepping into some rather large shoes, with a mountain to climb and numerous commitments to fulfil. It can also often feel like you’re hit with a lot of challenges immediately, seeing you react to every situation. Until you find your pace and a system that works for you, every situation can appear to be urgent.

In addition, one of the biggest challenges that a charity CEO faces is that there aren’t many full—or even part-time staff.

This means you don’t have a lot people to delegate to, leading to you becoming almost a `jack of all trades’ with your time and resources fully stretched.

Then comes communication. As you step into your new role, you have to hit the ground running, finding your position in the charity and learning how to best communicate and work comfortably with everyone, from your board of trustees to your volunteers, staff, and even service users.

There are also continuous funding challenges and matching this with your strategy as you try to maximise what is available to what you can achieve is extremely challenging.

On top of all of this, you also have to inspire people, keep trustees up to date with vital information and data, ensure everyone is working together, and follow all charity governance and Charity Commission guidance.

It’s a lot.

However, take a deep breath because it is all worthwhile.

Overcoming the challenges charity CEOs face

Work with your volunteers

It’s vital to remember that you would be lost without your volunteers and a strong board of trustees behind you.

These teams help to hold charities together, so you shouldn’t be afraid to use them.

They’re there to help because they’re passionate about the charity and what it offers to clients. 

Use this passion, involve volunteers in projects, delegate specific tasks from your `to-do` list, work with trustees, and use their skills and experience in other areas to support activities within the charity.

The more you communicate with your trustees and volunteers, the more valued they will feel and the more responsibility they will likely take on.

Recognise your strengths and weaknesses

This is a HUGE one. It’s also one of the hardest.

Faye talks about this in detail, and we agree when she states there is “no room for stubborn pride” as a charity CEO.

You have to recognise your strengths and weaknesses and work to these. You don’t have time to sit and stew on things. Instead, you must use the people around you and tap into their skills and experience.

This may mean outsourcing certain areas and contracts to external agencies, like Beyond Profit, who can help with charity finances and accounts, or even outsourcing your social media, marketing, poster designs etc to professional agencies.

This will provide you with extra resources when you need them most, allowing you to spend time on other areas of the charity.

Learn to say “no”

It’s hard-working in a charity, as you always want to help and go the extra mile. However, trust us, even with the best will in the world, you can’t do it all.

It’s important to take time out to learn about yourself, to know that you do have a limit, and to accept that and even communicate that with others.

This understanding helps you to avoid being overwhelmed and burnt out. It’s important to strike a good work-life blend because you are no use to anyone if you run out of steam.

Collaboration not competition

Look to work with like-minded organisations and people, those who share the same values, and those whose service offerings complement and support your charity activities.

Working together provides you with support, additional resources, and another team to bounce off. 

These partnerships also help you to reach even more clients, which is a win-win for everyone.

Be you

The image of the `traditional CEO` is long gone, and now it’s so important that you bring your personality and passion to the role as well as your experience and skills.

It’s not only refreshing, but it’s human—and people relate to people, so don’t be afraid to just be you.

Remember to ground yourself and on days when you need the reminder of why you do what you do, take yourself back to the shop floor and speak to some of your service users and your volunteers.

Reflect on everything you have achieved and allow for the little wins (sometimes the smallest wins make the biggest difference).

Work with your trustees

Trustees are there to support you and ensure that charity runs smoothly and is in line with all Charity Commission governance, so make sure you’re in regular communication with your team.

Keep them updated with reports, information, and key areas of charity activity and use their skills and experience to support funding, strategy setting, and more.

The better your relationship with your trustees, the more effective and smooth your charity will run.

Challenges of becoming a new CEO in charity

Becoming a new charity CEO comes with a big dose of imposter syndrome. However, you’ve got to take time to look to those small wins, those conversations with volunteers and clients, to feel empowered.

My final piece of advice, and something we all need reminding of at times… you’re bloody good at what you do, and remember, it’s okay to ask for help.

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