Pipeline of future chairs a ‘real concern’, researchers warn

Charity

The future cohort of chairs is a “real concern” for the sector and immediate change must be implemented to better support current and future chairs, according to a new report.

The Future Charity Chair report, led by the Centre for Charity Effectiveness at Bayes Business School, has found that EDI and leadership development should be at the “top of the agenda” to help charity leaders to prepare for the future cohort of chairs.

The research – which is based on the findings of a survey of 61 chairs and 23 support organisation representatives – identified that the lack of diversity within charities, including staff, trustees and volunteers, posed a challenge for the sector. 

It also found a need to recruit and support staff, trustees and volunteers who reflect their charities’ communities and service users.

It found there has been a growing emphasis within the sector on EDI and the role of people with lived experience.

The pipeline of future chairs is a real concern,” the report says. “To achieve a healthy flow of chairs, the sector will need to look harder at how to ‘open up’ boards, who their future chairs could be and where they will be found.

It also says: “Participants highlighted a systemic shift in thinking about bringing lived experience into charity leadership.

“Bringing lived experience into the board was particularly important to chairs of charities that work with people who, more generally, find themselves marginalised.”

The report also found a number of other challenges, including income-generation and fundraising, growing competition for contracts, recruitment and retention difficulties, and reputation management in a time of heightened media attention, polarised views and misinformation.

Participants viewed the future as “increasingly volatile, complex and uncertain”, it says, adding that participants were more focused on the present and near future rather than the distant future.

It says: “Generally, the participants directed their attention towards the immediate demands of their operating environment, and the short- and medium-term factors within their control.”

The report adds that there is a need to “reposition the role of the chair so that it is more manageable and attractive to a wider range of people”. 

It recommends that charities promote the chair roles as a leadership position that is ambitious and aspirational, adding that they should utilise the joined-up efforts of civic bodies, support organisations, educators, recruiters and the Charity Commission.

The report urges the regulator to “reflect the changing nature of the chair’s role in its guidance as that role continues to evolve”.

It says charities should implement a leadership development programme for current chairs that would cover areas such as how to embed EDI principles and behaviours, collaborative and collective leadership, strategic decision-making and the critical nature of chair and chief executive relationships.

The role of a current chair and their board needs to be “proactive, not reactive, in addressing the future pipeline”, the report says. 

Current chairs should “encourage a collective and open board mindset to seek out the right talent for their organisation”, it says.

This includes ensuring that an inclusive and equitable interview process is in place to ensure the required diversity, the report recommends.

It says that chairs must embrace succession planning for their board and work with trustees to create and share development opportunities, saying that this is “too often left to a time of urgency”.

Regular board appraisals can be used to explore the appetite among trustees to take on a chair role and discuss qualities, skills and development needs, the report adds.

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