Personal animosity, fudging or avoiding key decisions and failing to agree for whom a charity works are among the five fatal flaws that recur in charity governance, according to a new guide from the Association of Chairs.
The association today launches A Chair’s Compass – A Guide for Chairs of Charities and Non-profit Organisations at the final event of the Lord Mayor’s Charity Leadership Programme lecture and seminar series.
The guide sets out four "compass points" it says are essential for chairs to be guided by in order to remain focused: clarity of purpose, a cohesive board, constructive relationships and considered decision-making.
According to the association, the compass has been set out in response to five frequently occurring fatal flaws common to boards: personal animosities tainting the atmosphere of a boards; avoiding rather than facing difficulties or key decisions; failing to agree for what or whom the organisation works; trustees not knowing each other well enough to build trust and work cohesively; and a lack of persistence and thoroughness in making big decisions.
It also sets out how an incoming chair should prepare themselves for their new role. "You may expect to receive a thorough induction – but it could well be absent," the guide says. Among other things, it says chairs-in-waiting need to have awareness of their own motivations and be able to assess what they do and do not know and what they might need to "unlearn" from previous time spent on the board in a non-chair role.
The guide also advises on constructing a good chair-chief executive relationship. "Agreeing boundaries and how to negotiate grey areas is important, including agreeing the extent of delegated authority and how its use is reported," it says. "Agree also on regular communication that works for you both."
Ruth Lesirge, chair of the association and co-author of the report said: "Being a leader in the charity and non-profit sector has never been more important nor more demanding. Public expectations grow and grow. Yet our research and conversations show that being a charity chair can be a tough and surprisingly lonely role."
Electronic copies of the guide are available for free to all, while non-members are charged £25 for a hard copy. It has been developed with the support of the City Bridge Trust, a grant-maker with the City of London Corporation as its sole trustee, and the investment management company CCLA.
• For more on the association and its ambitions, see page 54 of the forthcoming November edition of Third Sector, out this week.