Q:I am a fundraiser for a major charity. I want to become a chief executive. Can I, and how?
A: Yes you can, and yes you should. The great thing about chief executives in our sector is that they come from a diverse range of backgrounds and professional experience. Just looking at the ACEVO membership I see members who come from the public and private sectors as well as our own, and from backgrounds as diverse as the Army, banking, the church, civil engineering, as well as community leaders and trade unionists.
Fundraising experience is just as valid as accountancy or strategic planning.
The important thing is to look at the competencies required of a chief executive. This is a leadership position so you need skills that cover the following: leading staff (inspiring and motivating them), strategic direction, communication skills, networking, negotiation and representation, effective handling of resources, and skills in managing upwards, downwards and outwards.
If you think about it, many of the skills you have as a fundraiser will be appropriate. Perhaps you have had less experience in the area of managing staff or resources and this will be important for a chief executive post.
The bottom line will be ensuring an effectively run, financially sound organisation. You might need to work on this area, for example, in seeking out development opportunities externally such as trusteeship. You should certainly research the core requirements here because you will need that to convince trustees.
How do you go about getting the job? A longer article beckons, I suspect, but here are a few pointers: keep an eye out for opportunities in the press, contact relevant recruitment companies, increase your networking, exploit your contacts, use every opportunity to write articles and speak at seminars, utilise professional associations to get yourself known, get a mentor, start looking at adverts and see what people are asking from candidates and how you might match up.
Do remember that the sector is vast and there are plenty of chief executive jobs in small as well as large charities. And different organisations want a different focus - some chief executive posts will have a larger external focus, while others will have a serious business operational side.
Finally, remember Walt Disney's advice: "If you can dream it, you can do it". So get applying!
Send your questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.