Top tips for charity Chief Executives on board effectiveness

10 October 2023

The Board of Trustees is fundamental to the success of any charitable organisation but keeping it running smoothly can be a challenge. Many things can sabotage board effectiveness: lack of direction, inexperience, personality clashes… leading to wasted time and missed opportunities.


Having worked with innumerable charity Boards and leadership teams on everything from governance and strategy to training, restructuring, and funding, I offer six golden rules for charity Chief Executives to engender board effectiveness.


  1. Harness disagreement but know the limit. Creative tension is good negativity is not. So, encourage robust questioning and make Trustees feel free to challenge, but if it starts to turn into nit-picking and point scoring, be ready to close it down.


  1. Tolerate and guide. Keep in mind that very few trustees deliberately seek to be difficult, regardless of how they may come across at times. Often, they just need to be given the right guidance.


  1. Have a shared vision and goals. Make sure everyone is pulling in the same direction by working together to agree a strategic plan. As with any journey, if you set off without directions, you’re going to get lost.


  1. Understand and feed individual Trusteesmotivations. Everyone has their own reasons for volunteering and their own way of assessing whether it’s worth their while. The more you can meet their individual expectations, the more positive energy you will get out of them.


  1. Understand and utilise their skills. A well-constructed Board should have a diverse spread of skills and experience, so tap in to it. If you find you’re over-served in some areas and under-served in others, it could be time for a restructure.


  1. Listen and communicate; communicate and listen; listen and communicate.


And when you come to evaluate whether your governance is working effectively, try asking the following questions, both of yourself and (confidentially) your Trustees:


  • What do our Mem & Arts say, and are we following them?
  • Have we got the right Chair?
  • Have we got the right people on the Board?
  • Is the role of the Board, and of individual trustees, clearly spelled out?
  • Are trustees given effective induction and training?
  • Do people get the support they need to fulfil their role?
  • Are people able and willing to speak out if things are not right?
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