Reasons to join Acevo: 'Acevo has opened many doors for me'

Six charity chief executives, including Javed Khan from Victim Support, tell Sophie Hudson how Acevo has played a crucial role in their professional lives, offering them opportunities for development and in one case acting 'like an extended family'

Javed Khan
Javed Khan

Javed Khan, chief executive, Victim Support

Javed Khan became an Acevo member in October 2010 and generally feels well represented by the organisation. "It has a huge challenge because the sector is so broad," he says. "Ideally, I'd like Acevo to speak out on specialist issues too, but I do understand why it has to be broad."

He believes that Acevo has to be cautious when discussing certain issues, such as the national versus local debate, because different parts of the sector are affected in different ways. "It is difficult terrain for Acevo, but it has got to work it out," he says. "Otherwise, some smaller charities might decide that Acevo is not for them. I don't know what the answer is, though."

Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive of Acevo, is a good ambassador for the sector, says the Victim Support chief, and it's good that Bubb writes for a variety of journals.

He also likes the fact that Bubb was willing to meet him privately. "I asked to meet and he was very accommodating," he says.

Acevo has provided Khan with advice on a number of occasions, such as when he was planning a board awayday and when Victim Support was trying to find a new chair. "Acevo is probably there for the worst of times, not the best of times," he says. "It will guide me when things get tough - we need that voice."

Rob Williamson, Chief executive, Community Foundation

Rob Williamson, Chief executive, Community FoundationIt might be a cliche, but it's true that the role of the chief executive is a lonely one, says Rob Williamson, the chief executive of the Community Foundation.

Williamson joined Acevo in 2009 and says he found its publication The Chief Executive's First 100 Days particularly useful. "I've recommended it to others in the same position," he says. "It's the structure it presents on the process you go through - the process of self-evaluation and evaluation of the organisation. It was helpful to have that on the desk as a reference point."

He has not sought advice directly from Acevo so far, but has used several Acevo publications to help him on occasions. He also tries to attend regional Acevo events and has spoken at a few himself.

Acevo's outspoken views on issues such as public sector and health reforms have sometimes divided its membership, but Williamson says that the organisation cannot represent everyone's views all of the time.

"If occasionally I don't feel that every nuance represents me, then that is just what happens," he says. "But the fact that Sir Stephen Bubb has that profile brings huge advantages."

Lesley Dixon, chief executive, PSS

Lesley Dixon, chief executive, PSSLesley Dixon, chief executive of Liverpool-based social care charity PSS, joined Acevo in 2007 when she became chief executive of Leeds University Union. "At that point, unions were very separate from the voluntary sector world," she says. "I became aware of Acevo and it was a way to become more integrated into that world. Acevo has opened doors for me."

At the time she joined, she says, Acevo was starting to think about improving its presence in the north, the expansion of which over recent years has been invaluable to organisations based there. "The one thing I would ask of them is not to let that go," she says.

Dixon's membership of Acevo has helped her to meet other chief executives, which has made her feel less alone. The relationships she has built with other chief executives have helped her to address some of the issues and problems she has faced in her role leading a charity.

Acevo was also a great help when she and her management team recently looked at the future of PSS. "We undertook a major strategic review and met Ralph Michell, Acevo's director of policy, to have a detailed chat about the world of health and social care and where it might be in five years' time," she says. "I've found I can just pick up the phone to people there."

Gary Forster, chief executive, Transaid

Gary Forster, chief executive, TransaidGary Forster, chief executive of the international development charity Transaid, joined Acevo only in January this year, but has already benefited from the networking opportunities. "In the past few months I have attended the annual general meeting, the new members lunch and the Silver Jubilee lunch, and in the next few weeks I shall be going to the Learning with Leaders Lunch - that's a lot of lunches," he says.

As a result of these events, he has now built friendships with a diverse range of chief executives, with whom he can go for coffee in order to ask for advice. He also makes use of Acevo's LinkedIn group to discuss a variety of issues with other members, such as reserves and unrestricted funding.

Forster has found Acevo's salary survey and pensions advice service particularly helpful for setting his own organisation's pay levels.

"The salary survey is a good example of the subtle ways that Acevo can help," he says. "The contents of the survey weren't a surprise and, indeed, our pay structure was relatively in line with its findings. But what Acevo did through the salary survey was provide me with the confidence to sign off the pay structure and move on."

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive, National Day Nurseries Association

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive, National Day Nurseries AssociationPurnima Tanuku became Acevo's 2,000th member when she joined seven years ago.

She particularly likes Acevo's regular email bulletins, which include details about the big changes affecting the sector. The organisation was a helpful source of information and support during a governance structure review at the charity four years ago.

"The chief executive appraisal form it used to provide was very useful," she says. "That's something they could think about bringing back."

NDNA is based in Yorkshire and Tanuku regularly attends Acevo's events in the region. Her management team gained a lot, for example, from recent events on public sector funding and local authority cuts.

She believes Acevo needs to improve the way it supports different sizes of organisation - particularly medium-sized ones such as her charity.

But she says it has played a very important role for the sector in lobbying and campaigning. "The voluntary sector delivers a lot of government policy," she says. "From that point of view, the role of Acevo has been quite crucial."

Rob Owen, chief executive, St Giles Trust

Rob Owen, chief executive, St Giles TrustRob Owen, chief executive of St Giles Trust, a charity that supports former offenders, was given two bits of advice when he joined the sector in 2007 after a career in investment banking. One was that he needed to make an impact within 100 days of taking the reins at a charity; the second was that he should join Acevo.

He is glad he took both pieces of advice. His Acevo membership has given him access to key decision-makers and some highly influential people, such as ministers and major funders. Attending Acevo events helps to remind him just how much power there is in the leadership of the sector itself.

"To me, it's like an extended family," Owen says of the membership body. "We know it's there when we need it."

Acevo has a unique ability to be a critical friend to government, he says, often giving it constructive ideas on how to improve things. He describes Sir Stephen Bubb, the chief executive of Acevo, as a "loveable maverick" who is something of a "Marmite" character: you either love or hate him.

"But I don't know anyone who would ever belittle his determination and fortitude to protect and enhance the sector," Owen says. "I've always admired old-school mavericks - they tend to get a lot done."

- Read other articles about how Acevo has evolved over the last 25 years, including an interview with Sir Stephen Bubb

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