What keeps Chairs of smaller charities awake at night?

Chalk outline of a head with post it notes inside, with question marks on

Being a successful Chair is not straightforward. It inevitably brings challenges, dilemmas and difficulties both in terms of running an effective board and steering the organisation. When your charity has limited resources, these challenges can feel more difficult to overcome.

Through our Beacon Programme workshops we have been meeting Chairs and Vice Chairs of all kinds of smaller charities (with an income of under £1 million). Common themes and challenges facing Chairs have been emerging through group discussions.

To mark Trustees Week, here’s the top five issues currently keeping Chairs awake at night based on these workshops.

If these issues are challenging you too, we have included some ideas about support available.

1. Attracting and keeping the right trustees

Concern: how can we attract and keep trustees with the right skills, knowledge and experience who have the time to devote to the role?

Issue: In a smaller charity, trustees are often required to play a more active role in overseeing the organisation’s operations meaning more time and commitment. Finding the right people can be hard.


2. Funding and financial sustainability

Concerns: how can we manage with dwindling resources? How can we find new sources of income? Do the board have the knowledge and skills to be able to manage the finances?

Issue: In a smaller charity, the board needs to be hands-on with the finances and fundraising. Everyone needs to feel confident that they are making the right decisions and managing adequate financial oversight.


3. Succession planning

Concerns: X is stepping down soon, how can we replace them?

Issue: smaller charities often rely on a few key individuals. This may be the Chair, the Treasurer, a few trustees, the CEO (if they have one), a few staff and or volunteers. These people often juggle the governing, managing and coordinating of the organisation’s activities and hold a lot of important knowledge. Therefore, succession planning is vital to ensure you have enough time for hand-over, but often not considered until it is too late. Finding a replacement can be a real headache.


  • If you are a Chair, it is never too soon to think about looking for your replacement.  Working with your board and CEO to develop a good role description for the position is a good starting point. To get you started, our Chair’s Compass provides an outline role description.
  • Join our ‘Developing an Effective Board’ module 4 Beacon workshops and webinars for tools and top tips on succession planning

4. Board relationships

Concern: the board is not always effective, we have the same conversations at each meeting, one person tends to dominate proceedings.

Issue: managing tensions in the board and creating a productive culture is not straightforward or easy. People are complex and sometimes unpredictable. Their conduct and motivations vary as do their levels of self-awareness.


5. Relationship with CEO

Concern: my CEO is hard to work with. We just don’t connect.

Issue: A strained relationship creates tension throughout a small organisation. Creating a relationship that brings out the best in both the Chair and CEO takes time and effort.


 Your experience

Are these the things that keep you awake at night in your chairing role? Are there other sources of support you would recommend?


Find out more about our Beacon Programme for Chairs of smaller charities in England.

See also What makes a good charity Chair?