Charity insights: taking the lead, shaping the future

Effective leadership has never been more important in the sector.

Leaders need the skills to manage their organisations’ resources expertly so they can do the vital work they were set up to do in the face of current challenges.

Nazreen Visram

Head of Charities, Barclays Corporate Banking

Article 1: Leadership

This is the first in a 4-part series of charity insights in which we share our thoughts and those of guest speakers at our 11th National Charities Day on strategies for confronting the many challenges facing the sector.

81% of charities say demand for their services has increased.Ref. 1
47% of charities say they can't meet demand. Ref. 1
27% say the cost-of-living crisis is their biggest barrier to digital progress. Ref. 2

Global geopolitical turmoil and tough economic conditions at home continue to have a huge impact on the most vulnerable, leading to increased demand for charitable services. At the same time, many charities are facing financial constraints with funding and donations under severe pressure.

All of this means that the strong and effective leadership skills needed to navigate a shifting landscape have never been more important. Charities and their leaders can be proud of how much they’ve already had to adapt to continue delivering on their purpose in challenging circumstances.

Charity leaders are focusing on…

Creating a culture of trust

As leaders, building trust is critical – whether that’s inside your organisation, with the community it serves or with your other stakeholders and partners.

Creating a culture of trust within a charity means ensuring people feel they’re in a safe environment, where they can speak up when they see a problem or come forward with new ideas and solutions.

To help build that culture, engage with people at every level of the organisation. Emma Cherniavsky, CEO of UK for UNHCR, says: “Once a year I sit down with every member of staff and ask what’s going well and what’s not going so well?”

Investing in people

Emma Revie, CEO of the Trussell Trust, believes one of the most important facets of leadership is investing in other people: “Bring in people better than you, who think differently to you but who share your values – it’s how you do great things.”

Leaders who really listen to and support their team stand a much better chance of fostering innovation, creativity and ensuring their organisation is better equipped to deal with new challenges and opportunities.

It’s an approach Jess Tomlinson, Barclays’ Head of Public Sector, UK Corporate Banking, fully supports: “When I look at what’s in my diary, I always try to ask myself whether it will help my team achieve their goals – if it won’t, it probably shouldn’t be in there.”

Maintaining clarity of purpose

A vital part of any leader’s job is to maintain a clear focus on the charity’s purpose – not only to deliver its vision effectively but also to ensure that everyone within the organisation knows how their efforts contribute to that cause.

Clear communication of that overarching purpose helps to:

Unite an organisation through shared aims and values.
Inspire people to overcome challenges.
Ensure the charity can stick to its priorities.

One of my tops tips for leaders is simply to be clear in your mind about your priorities, your purpose and your values.

Jane Ide

OBE, CEO, Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations

Being true to your values

Shared values underpin a charity’s purpose and help to unite people around it, so it’s vital leaders ensure their organisations stay true to them.

Leaders should set an example and promote the right values in every aspect of the way their charity works. For example, progression pathways within the organisation can be linked to appropriate skills development and behaviour frameworks that reflects the values.

Well-defined and understood values should also play a key part in guiding charities’ decision-making, particularly in difficult circumstances. A leader unsure about the right course of action should perhaps look for the option most closely aligned with the charity’s values.

Building a support network

No-one can have all the answers, so connecting with people you can learn from and share ideas with is essential for any leader.

You’ve got to find your ‘gang’. People say leadership is lonely, and I certainly couldn’t do it on my own, so when I was invited to join a group of chief executives who regularly meet it was the greatest gift I’d ever been given.

Emma Revie

CEO of the Trussell Trust

Jane Ide adds: “It’s also hugely valuable to be able to connect with leaders who don’t work in the same cause or area that you do. Building a network of fellow leaders who work in completely unrelated organisations, where you can be absolutely open because there is no risk attached and where you can draw on really different perspectives to help solve challenges, is an absolute game changer in leadership terms.”

How to deliver your purpose..? 75% of charities are collaborating

Of course, it’s just as important to find support that helps you to take time out – perhaps a group of people or an activity that has nothing to do with your job. Whatever it is, the shift in focus will likely give you the space to return to work as a stronger leader.

Whilst our focus in this insight is on leadership, a common theme across all four of our topics for discussion is the need for greater collaboration between charities, with *75% of the organisations attending our National Charities Day 2023 saying they are currently collaborating with other charities to help deliver their purpose.

Charities are all experiencing similar challenges in supporting people, so collaboration is important because the scale of the task we’re facing is too big for any one organisation. When we come together we have the capacity to move mountains and do what seems impossible and I have huge hope in our ability to do more of the same.

Emma Revie

CEO, Trussell Trust

Promoting mental wellbeing

When it comes to mental wellbeing, setting the right example as a leader may be just as important as having support services such as counselling in place where necessary.

Emma Cherniavsky believes there’s value in leaders sometimes showing themselves to be vulnerable: “I’m very open about moments when I might be struggling – it opens up the space for people to feel they can say the same.”

As a leader, it’s also important to set the tone when it comes to work/life balance by setting clear boundaries, such as making it clear you won’t work while on holiday or won’t expect people to send or read work emails outside of normal working hours.

Our thanks to all our contributors for sharing their views, experiences and expertise.

More in this series

Charity insights: harnessing the potential of AI

Charity insights: harnessing the potential of AI

Find out how AI can be a tool for the charity sector.

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