Hey – are you interested in a new role?
It’s hugely stressful, intense and often thankless.
It will involve bearing responsibility for really important work that lots people are depending on.
Oh, and it’s completely and utterly unpaid.
…Where are you going? Come back!
Welcome to the world of being a charity sector Chair in a crisis.
As someone who specialises in crisis and transition interim CEO roles, I’ve had my fair share of intense, demanding, and exhausting roles, leading charities through change and out of crisis.
But I get paid for them.
Meanwhile, the dedicated Chairs of these charities, who most likely signed up to attend four meetings a year plus regular check-ins with their CEO, suddenly find themselves expected to take on much, much more.
…deal with grievances? Quite often.
…oversee redundancies? Regularly.
…try to stop everyone else on the board from leaving? Most definitely.
…handle the aftermath of a CEO’s departure, in whatever context that may be? Sadly all too common.
…appoint an interim CEO? And then a permanent one? But of course.
…field any and every question from the interim CEO and make a million decisions to help secure the charity’s ongoing viability? Absolutely.
Not to mention, they have to do all this while continuing their usual jobs and home responsibilities.
In the course of my work, I’ve witnessed Chairs burning out, having breakdowns, stepping down and – on one occasion – a Chair I worked with closely had to stand down immediately after he suffered a heart attack after a prolonged period of stress.
I know firsthand how tough it is. As the former Vice-Chair of Action Aid UK, I took on a role whose demands escalated to more than 15 hours a week for months on end. This was incompatible with my responsibilities as an interim CEO, consultant, and parent – as well as my own health, which ultimately compelled me to make the difficult decision to step down.
With all this in mind, why do we persist in maintaining these roles as purely voluntary during times of crisis?
Just a couple of weeks ago, I was approached by a charity Chair who was struggling and thinking of leaving – but she knew her departure would have a negative impact on the Board. She was desperate for me to come in and take over as a paid interim Chair.
This enquiry is not unusual. However, Trustees are almost always barred from payment, so I am unable to take these roles on. I can offer guidance, support, advice, facilitation – but actually to be a Chair must remain voluntary under current rules.
I firmly believe there should be a provision for charities in crisis to seek permission from the Charity Commission to engage a paid interim Chair.
Enabling paid Chairs would…
… give vital assistance to Trustees navigating treacherous waters and ensure they receive the professional support and leadership they desperately need.
…help to reduce Trustee turnover and keep Trustees in their roles when crisis hits.
…enable a skilled Chair to remain in post throughout a crisis by compensating them for the time they are giving.
…give charities the best chance of getting through a crisis successfully by ensuring that skilled and experienced people are at the helm when things get rough.
It’s time we reevaluate the expectations we place on these dedicated individuals and consider the professional reputational risks, the toll on mental health, and the overwhelming time commitment that comes with a voluntary role during times of crisis.
It’s time for a change that acknowledges and compensates the immense contributions of interim Chairs in ensuring the resilience and success of charities in crisis.