Five rules for new leaders' public pronouncements

Try to sound humble and don't slag off the entire voluntary sector, says Martin Edwards

Martin Edwards
Martin Edwards

When new leaders join charities, there are many hurdles to face, such as understanding the cause, getting to grips with immediate financial challenges and winning over staff and volunteers. But sometimes they fall at a hurdle facing them before they start: the press statement on how much they are looking forward to their new job.

These statements and interviews are often enjoyably cringeworthy. So here are five golden rules to help negotiate the minefield.

First, don't slag off the entire voluntary sector. This mistake is common when the new boss comes from the private sector: one thinks of Andrew Flanagan, who, a few months into his role as NSPCC chief executive in 2009, not long after the implosion of almost every private-sector bank in Britain, described the voluntary sector as "less effective and efficient than the private sector".

Second, avoid commenting on the charity's hot-button issues before you know the party line on the subject. I recall the former MP Jackie Ballard, who, before taking up the role of director-general of the RSPCA in 2002, gave outspoken interviews in the media before liaising with the charity's press office, sending it into something of a spin.

Third, try to sound humble. Simon Antrobus, chief executive of the drug and alcohol charity Addaction, is a lovely chap, but his joining statement might have strayed the wrong side of modest: "I bring with me expertise in lobbying, campaigning and advocacy at national levels and influencing the forthcoming government agenda. I look forward to using this, along with my values-based approach and inclusive style, to take Addaction forward."

By contrast, when Lindsay Boswell left the Institute of Fundraising to become chief executive of the food poverty charity FareShare, he struck a beautifully self-deprecating note. "I think the institute could do with a fresh perspective," he said. "Everybody has a shelf life and it's important to keep an eye on that." He then segued into the fourth golden rule - praise the charity you are joining - by adding: "I'm a massive fan of FareShare and the opportunity was too good to miss."

Finally, praise the charity's people. When Clare Pelham became chief executive of Leonard Cheshire Disability, she said she had been "profoundly impressed" by its people when she was volunteering for the charity as a student.

Maggie Darling, chair of the Daycare Trust, reached a high score: "I am delighted to take up my new role with Daycare Trust, an organisation whose aims I share. I look forward to working with staff, trustees and members of the trust to shape a vision for early years that really delivers for parents and children."

If she had only avoided that word "delivers", which for me conjures up images of ordering a pizza, it would have been a perfect 10.

Martin Edwards is chief executive of the children's hospice Julia's House

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