Oonagh Aitken of Community Service Volunteers

The new chief executive says she will be keeping a close eye on the bottom line at the social action and volunteering charity, which has just been through a tough period of transformation

Oonagh Aitken
Oonagh Aitken

The social action and volunteering charity CSV has recorded losses totalling more than £3m over the past two years and has closed its 11 learning centres. So it's hardly surprising that Oonagh Aitken's top priority as the newly appointed chief executive is financial sustainability.

Aitken joined the charity as director of social action and volunteering in April 2012. Her latest appointment is the first time she has moved jobs internally in a career that includes 20 years of teaching, and work in Canada and in local government.

In this case she sees the move as a strong advantage, in that the people she's working with have the reassurance of already knowing her management style, which she describes as "open, motivating and tough".

She says: "I understand the organisation, I've shared the pain of the transformation and I feel that I can build on the good work that my predecessor, Lucy de Groot, started.

"In my previous jobs, I've needed to take tough decisions and handle them clearly and transparently. At CSV, I have to keep an eye on the bottom line; any tough decisions will inevitably be associated with the financial sustainability of the charity. It's important not to shirk these decisions and to deal with challenges head-on."

Aitken refers to the recent "terrible months", but says she doesn't want to dwell on them. "We've been through a tough period of transformation and are now looking forward," she says.

The charity has restructured and Aitken will head a new senior executive team that, she says, has the experience and enthusiasm to help the charity reach its potential. "I'm a good motivator of people and am able to take them with me, which will be significant in the future," she says.

Being made redundant from her last job in local government forced Aitken to consider what she wanted to do next. She saw a move into the third sector, with which she had worked while in local government, as a new departure and a new challenge. She says she is now looking forward to being in a leadership position.

"Over the past two years we've all felt what the potential for the charity could be if we got our brand and work better known," she says. "Our volunteers do fabulous work, but not many people know what they do. Getting that message out attracted me to the role."


2014: Chief executive, CSV

2012: Director of social action and volunteering, policy and fundraising, CSV

2011: Strategic adviser, children's services improvement, Local Government Group

2009: National adviser for children, young people and families, Local Government Improvement and Development

2006: Contract faculty member, McGill School of Social Work and University of Quebec.

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