Having worked with several charities I have found that the leadership, team cohesion and motivation and the leadership challenges are very different from those we have experienced when working within the corporate sector. Charities are businesses in their own rights but they work under a different and more challenging set of rules and circumstances.

Where a leader in the corporate sector just has the conundrum of balancing stakeholder profit with customer value and societal/brand expectation. A leader in a charity has to balance trustee requirements, fundraising requirements, employees and volunteers, societal expectations and the end user service/value.

Let’s start by looking at the trustee dimension within a charity, as it is the most complex of the issues. Trustees are generally very well meaning and highly motivated people who work genuinely hard for a heartfelt cause. However, they may not all come with the same motivation and agenda. Hence, they may value different aspects of a charities work in different ways. They need to be marshalled to be truly cohesive in their approach and yet they need to be independent in their judgement, in order, to ensure the charity adheres to the requirements of the law and the Charity Commission as it moves forward.

Fund raising has many tenets from investment, the basic retail of products, to the winning of funding and grants from public and charitable bodies, to the support of individuals as they raise money. These aspects combined need to provide the working funds for the charity to function and develop. The charitable  financial world is complex and fraught with risk during these frugal times, accountability and transparency has never been more valued and demanded by the customer and the regulator.

The employment environment of a charity is also complicated when it comes to motivating, leading and managing those involved. A charity will normally have paid employees who work in normal employee circumstances alongside those who volunteer their services. The paid employees, whilst viewing their employment as a job, may be intrinsically motivated to choose to work within the sector. However, it is the volunteers that bring other challenges in terms of motivation and expectation. How do you plan an event when you don’t know how many people you will have there organising it?

When it comes to providing value for your customers, identifying who they are and how their expectations can be met is critical. Each customer will have a very different perspective of the charity and it’s work. Derived from the reasons for their association with that charitable organisation. Contributors to the charity will expect their money to be spent wisely. Those who benefit from the work of the charity may have real issues and problems in their lives that have driven them to seek help. Some will be so desperate that any assistance will do and others will be far more choosy. Circumstances will be incredibly varied depending upon the focus of that particular charity.

The intrinsic rewards of charitable work far outweigh the financial reward and yet the challenges of leading such organisations in the highly competitive charitable sector can lead to a stressful and lonely existence. Best practice needs to be shared more effectively and proven solutions to common issues need to be more available to all those involved, in the leadership of these wonderful organisations, who afford our society so much.

Sampson Hall are now working with Charity Leaders as part of the Charity Forums UK. To help them work together, share best practice and support each other.

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