Charity chairs lacked support during pandemic, Association of Chairs warns

Almost two-thirds of chairs increased their working hours during the Covid-19 crisis, but half received no additional support

Charity chairs significantly increased the amount of time spent on their role during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to new research from the Association of Chairs, but many lacked sufficient training and support.

The report Chairing through Covid: above and beyond, which was supported by charity investment managers CCLA, surveyed 710 charity chairs and vice-chairs in November 2020.

The survey found 62 per cent of chairs spent four or more days a month on their chairing role compared with 43 per cent before the pandemic.

Almost one in five (18 per cent) reported spending more than 11 days a month on chairing during Covid-19, compared with 10 per cent before.

The most common reason given for the increase was time spent supporting staff, particularly the chief executive, which was cited by 32 per cent of respondents.

Other common reasons cited were additional time spent in meetings, according to a quarter of respondents, and Covid-19-related funding and crisis management (24 per cent).

While almost half of surveyed chairs said the pandemic had been a motivating experience, despite additional pressures, the findings highlighted concerns that charity chairs were not sufficiently supported in their roles.

More than half (54 per cent) of surveyed chairs said nothing had been spent on training and support for them over the past year, and one-third said less than £100 was spent on them.

Commenting on the findings, Rosalind Oakley, chief executive of the AoC, said: “The survey underlines just how challenging this period has been for chairs. Many are spending considerably more time on their role and are going above and beyond what is ordinarily expected of them.

“It is therefore imperative that we create a more supportive environment, or else we risk the burden of the role becoming too much, and many chairs simply walking away.”

The report recommends that charity chief executives signpost chairs to sources of support, and create budgets for development or to access support where appropriate.

It also calls on funders, including the government, to invest in flexible funding, especially core or unrestricted funding, and to increase their commitment to governance costs.

Sharika Sharma, head of business development at CCLA, said the pandemic had created challenging times for even the most experienced chairs.

“Many have seen the finances of their charities dramatically decrease but demand for services increase. It has often led them to take very difficult decisions to keep organisations going,” Sharma warned.

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