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Calls to charity chief executive crisis helpline up by 40 per cent

The pressure of cuts and restructures can lead to breakdowns in the relationship between chief executives and trustees, says Acevo

A crisis helpline set up by the chief executives body Acevo for its members has reported a 40 per cent increase in calls during the past year.

The CEOs in Crisis line was set up 15 years ago to help charity leaders who find themselves in conflict with their trustee boards and fear losing their jobs. The helpline gives them access to advice and legal services.

The latest figures show that 32 chief executives used the service in the 2011/12 financial year and 46 so far in 2012/13.

Jenny Berry, director of leadership development at Acevo, said most calls related to a breakdown in the relationship between chief executives and board members.

"The situation a few years ago was very different, with fewer problems for trustees to deal with," she said. "Now, CEOs and their boards are dealing with a whole range of problems, such as cuts and restructuring, and both sides and are spending less time talking to each other, which is leading to problems. There is more pressure on both sides."

Berry said that one tell-tale sign of trouble was that a charity appeared not to have a healthy turnover of trustees. "If you have a trustee in place for nine years, they are familiar with the organisation as it was – not as it currently is," she said.

Berry set up a governance helpline for Acevo members a year ago in an attempt to catch some of the problems before they reached crisis point, but only 12 people have used it so far.

One chief executive contacted the crisis helpline to complain that their charity’s board members were refusing to sign codes of conduct.

"I often advise callers to invest the necessary time in solving problems and to record incidents," said Berry.

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