Want to be a charity/nonprofit Chief Executive? Here’s 5 tips!



I have already touched on some of the brilliant things and frustrating things about being a Chief Exec. Hopefully the tips and insights won’t just be relevant to those who are interested in being in this particular role one day but for anyone who wants to take their career forward in our sector, including people who currently work for other sectors.


So, here are my 5 key tips:

1- Give yourself a reason (excuse!) to talk to lots of people

What I mean by this is simply that you need to find something that you are passionate about which allows you to expand your horizons and to interact with innovative, interesting people and organisations. You might be lucky enough to find this solely in your day job, or you might find it through volunteering. Setting up something yourself is another possibility- this could be as simple as a blog on an issue you care about, or an entirely new organisation. In my own case, a few years ago I was working at a small charity when I found that I was interested in learning more about charity Governance issues and doing something about the lack of diversity on charity Boards. There was no opportunity for me to do this through my day job so I set up Young Charity Trustees (YCT). Through YCT I came into contact with a host of organisations across the sector, including the charity I headed up, the Small Charities Coalition!

The YCT LinkedIn group now has more than 3,000 members and I continue to be encouraged about the interest that young people show in Trusteeship. My involvement with YCT has been an amazing adventure that has changed the direction of my career and of my life.

Here is one interview with me talking about Young Charity Trustees, a speech on Board Diversity, and here another interview with me talking generally about Trusteeship.

2- Find areas of life where everyone is equal 

I’m a huge advocate of social media. I like the fact that online, structures are much flatter. I might struggle to even find the email of a particular Chief Executive or to get much of a response from their organisation if I want to share something with them, but on a platform like Twitter it is much easier to engage. I have used social media to reach out to others, to support causes I care about and to collaborate in a way that would have been impossible even 5 years ago and social media is a great way to learn and to pick up new ideas.

Here are some LinkedIn tips for people who are involved with charities. Also, here are some more general ideas about how charities, even the smallest ones, can use social media to their advantage.

3- Get a mentor- and give something back

Mentoring is something that I wish more people thought about. The benefits are huge and obvious- the chance to talk with someone who can give you constructive feedback and advice but who you don’t need to ‘impress’; the chance to learn from the mistakes that others have already made; the chance to learn from someone who cares passionately about some of the same things you do…

Many people think that they don’t deserve a mentor, or even if they do deserve one that no-one would want to help them. This couldn’t be further from the case. Of course some people are too busy with other commitments to be mentors, but many would love to be asked. After all, mentoring is a two-way relationship, both parties learn something from it.


4- Never, ever stop learning

Being passionate about governance in charities, I obviously think that Trusteeship is a great way to learn and to pick up new skills, as well as to make a difference in society. There are of course so many other ways to volunteer and charities really need your help. Aside from the skills that volunteering teaches you, it is a chance to see a charity from the other side. How are volunteers treated? What is the ethos of the charity? Is everyone pulling in the same direction? This then means that in your paid job you can put some of the good things that you have picked up into practice and avoid those things which you are less impressed by.

Of course there are so many ways that it is possible for us to expand our minds. I was inspired when I went to my first TEDx event not too long ago. There are so many forward-thinking projects and initiatives which you might like to get involved in. When you meet new people who are doing things that you admire it can give you a new perspective on the world and your way of coping with your own challenges.

5- Network as much as possible

Networking, both in person and online, is an extremely important way of making progress in everything that you do. Of course, not everyone enjoys it, but if, as in point 1, you can find something that generally fires you up, you will find that talking to people about it and seeing how their own lives and work connect to it is more exciting and more easy than you might have imagined.

I give some tips about networking here.


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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