Charity leadership 'lags as much as a decade behind the private sector'

Geraldine Kilbride of the London Business School tells a Resource Alliance event that charity leaders need to think about their roles and be more inspirational

Geraldine Kilbride
Geraldine Kilbride

Charities could be a decade behind the private sector when it comes to leadership, according to a specialist in leadership behaviour from the London Business School.

Geraldine Kilbride, a business psychologist, was speaking at an event organised by the Resource Alliance in London yesterday.

She has been working with the alliance, which runs the annual International Fundraising Congress in Holland, and is programme director for its Future Leaders for Fundraisers training course.

"My background is considering leadership in the private sector, so I am a neophyte when it comes to your area of expertise," she said. "But I think it is possibly 10 years behind the private sector."

She listed areas where she thought managers got it wrong. For example, she said, newly promoted leaders tended to carry on doing what they had always done, and thus risked failing to be strategic and future-focused in their new roles.

"What you have failed to understand is that it is not about you – it’s about how you facilitate the work of others," Kilbride said.

She advised leaders to seek feedback and think about making their outward appearance more inspirational. "What do you look like? What is your energy?" she asked. "What does your office look like? Is it a grey tomb where you park your brain at the door and the biggest challenge you overcome each day is your tube journey to work?"

In the question-and-answer session, Liz Monk, director of fundraising at the Alzheimer’s Society, who also spoke at the event, said the sector lagged behind the private sector in terms of leadership and training because of money and pay.

"I think there is a belief in the inevitability of churn within lower to mid-management," she said.

Monk said charities also looked to spread money equitably. "Historically, it is about money and fairness and values," she said. "I think the challenge as we become more businesslike is that we start to make the case for training as an investment rather than as a cost."

Helen Hoare, head of legacies and probate at Age UK, who spoke at the event about her charity’s fundraising talent management programme, agreed that the issue was cultural.

She said the sector’s approach was not to invest in staff "because that means we are not investing in our beneficiaries", she said. "It is costs and culture that are putting us 10 years behind."

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