Earlier today, a charity Trustee I know said to me ‘we want to bring in someone with no experience or knowledge of the sector’. Thankfully I lack a brick wall in my office or I may have found myself pounding my head against it.
It’s worth pointing out that this organisation has no charity expertise on its Board or staff team currently.
The charity sector is one of the only sectors I know where those in charge (the Board) need absolutely no experience of the sector at all. And, what’s worse, Boards often undervalue the importance of charity experience and expertise.
I remember years ago, trying to convince my (male, white, middle class and fully-corporate) Board to bring in someone who had some charity background and expertise. I was tired of being the only person in the room who knew the rules around charities and tired of pointing out that something they were proposing was illegal or unethical. When we did get a charity Trustee on board, it was transformational.
As a Trustee, I’ve experienced the same issue. An impressive corporate Trustee I served alongside had excellent expertise in her field but absolutely no idea about how the sector worked, and breached many of her duties in the performance of her role. She shut down any attempts to inform her and eventually stepped down after she created a problem too significant to ignore.
So why is it that this expertise isn’t valued in the very sector where it’s needed most?
There are so many misconceptions about the charity sector.
I meet high level corporate executives who expect to step out of their jobs and into the charity sector at the same level – without any experience.
I meet Trustees by the dozen who talk about ‘bringing in business thinking’ to charities – yet who have no concept of how charities actually operate and what exactly they mean by ‘business thinking’.
I meet Boards that have run a charity into severe crisis but never once thought ‘I should get some training’, ‘I should engage a charity expert’, or even ‘I should google the Charity Commission and see what resources are there’. There’s an assumption that their corporate skills are superior to anything the charity sector has to offer. But, take them out of their corporate setting and those skills simply aren’t enough without a basic understanding of the sector.
I also regularly meet people who ask me why I didn’t follow a career in the private sector – ‘you could have been a partner in a law firm by now’, they tell me. Well, yes. Quite.
The charity sector is its own sector – it has its own rules, best practice, structure and experts. When run well, charities are efficient, effective, and can do more with a few hundred thousand pounds than any corporate I’ve ever come across. The sector is filled with passionate people giving their time and expertise to make a difference. And it has its own experts who can help you avoid repeating the many, many mistakes that charities make when they don’t get the right support in.
If you want to succeed in the sector, you’ll get some people with charity expertise in – whether that’s as staff, Trustees, or freelancers – or ideally, all three.
So, if you’re sick of experts, then I’d suggest you stay out of the charity sector.
If not, feel free to get in touch.