At Work: Law and Governance - Opinion - My name is Peter and I'm a mini-Bush

Peter Stanford, a writer and broadcaster and director of the Frank Longford Charitable Trust

Charities are likely to be more effective if their chairs are more presidential than democratic.

There seem to be two models for the role of chair of trustees. Roughly speaking, it comes down to whether you are a prime minister - literally primus inter pares (first among equals, if you're too young to have done Latin at school) - or a president. Admittedly, Tony Blair has slightly blurred the lines, but with luck that will all be over soon.

The prime ministerial chair of trustees works to achieve a consensus among his or her colleagues and then labours to get the chief executive and staff to buy into that. If the charity is a membership organisation, then there will be another few months (or years) getting a mandate for any major changes.

Clear vision

The presidential chair of trustees needs a clear vision and hands-on experience, and must work closely with the chief executive. Together, they present a united front to persuade trustees to come along with them on any major policies, albeit after undergoing a decent amount of scrutiny and revision.

My instinct is to prefer this second route, however undemocratic it seems.

Just to punish myself for such a wicked thought, I'll label it - and hence myself - a mini-Bush. My reasons are several. Partly it's personality: it suits me to work that way. Everyone involved as a volunteer in a charity has only limited time available to offer, so why spend it going round and round the houses?

It's also partly down to pace. Charities with complicated reporting and decision-making structures can move only at the pace of their slowest individuals, and run the risk of failing target groups that require a more immediate response to their daily needs and concerns.

Another element is the practicality of it all. Most trustees have other lives - families, careers, commitments - and therefore take most of a trustee meeting to get up to speed with what is happening at the charity.

To then ask them to make big decisions as well is too much. They want to be guided; spoon-fed, if you like.

The most telling argument, though, is the wealth of evidence that most charities fail because the chair and chief executive fail to team up as leaders. Side by side at the head of a charity, they have the potential to achieve remarkable things. If everyone is shepherded into the fold, their energy is dissipated and the charity is significantly less effective as a result.

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