For years, managing a charity was seen as a way of earning your reward in heaven. It needed to be, because the financial rewards on earth were usually negligible. Chief executives traditionally emerged via one of two main routes, as founders of the charity or pursuing a second career upon retirement from the armed services.
The first, while generally ensuring a continuity of vision, has had varied results. Some founders were able to unite passion with management nous and forge forward. Others, however, encountered traumatic challenges and were forced out.
The second route made the most of the skills learned within a structured military environment, emphasising obedience, clarity of purpose and single-minded pursuit of an objective.
In the past 10 years, the sector has undergone a massive transformation and the opportunities and demands on chief executives have altered beyond recognition. The onslaught of the "contract culture", the resulting growth in charities as service providers, better salaries plus political agendas about active citizenship and corporate social responsibility have produced a need for chief executives with a complex range of skills.
Now, again, we see two main routes to the chief executive's role. There is a steady stream of people leaving the private and public sectors, transferring their skills to the voluntary sector because they want to make a difference.
And the voluntary sector is increasingly "growing its own". A realistic career structure is developing with high-quality chief executives from the grassroots of the sector. More people are planning their development profiles and there is a growth in accredited voluntary-sector management courses.
It would be nice to see chief executives from the voluntary sector increasingly move across to the private and public sectors. All sectors would benefit. However, for this to be true two-way traffic, the voluntary sector has to invest in identifying and growing its rising stars. The private and public sectors need to recognise the value of management and leadership skills emerging from the voluntary sector, and the Government must think again about the need for a Voluntary Sector Skills Council.