By Ros Oakley, Chief Executive of Association of Chairs
Coronavirus is a huge challenge for us all and it can feel overwhelming. But if your charity is going through tough times, your leadership can make a big difference. You can bring perspective, calm and reassurance. You can offer support, encouragement and motivation to staff, volunteers and others. You can ensure that the organisation takes the key decisions it needs to take, steers the allocation of resources and stays true to its values.
Here are some points to consider:
Keep your charity’s purpose and values at the heart of what you do and how you do it. Let these guide your decision-making.
Don’t avoid the tough decisions – one aspect of your role is to help the board face up to and make the decisions that need to be made. You’ll need enough information to make those decisions, especially financial information, but try not to overload your staff with unrealistic demands, which are likely to take them away from doing the work that needs to be done. Remember your board and staff members will have different appetites to risk, and this will affect how they respond. It can help to understand and acknowledge this.
Make sure your minutes clearly record the rationale for your decisions, in case you need to explain them later.
The coronavirus means it’s not currently a good idea to have face to face meetings. Try to make alternative arrangements, where possible. Take a look at the Charity Commission’s charities and meetings CC48 for guidance on remote meetings. Unless your governing document specifically prohibits it, you can probably meet virtually. Try internet video conferencing rather than over the phone (according to case law, trustees should be able to both ‘see and hear’ each other). Free or low-cost options to consider include Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, GoToMeeting, Join.me
As a board, you may need to meet more frequently or delegate key decisions to a working group.
Be ready to change previously agreed plans to reflect the changing situation and build in flexibility. Consider contingency. What will you do if key staff or volunteers are sick or needing to self-isolate? If you have a business continuity pan – how is it standing up to this situation, what do you need to amend. If you don’t have such a plan, what do you now need in place?
A key issue is the impact on your financial sustainability. Do look at our coronavirus webpage for organisations and resources which can help you with your financial planning. You might also want to join our expert insight session on financial management for Chairs.
Take time to speak to your board members individually and get a sense of where they are coming from. What is concerning them? How can they help? Do they have particular skills or networks? Will their own responsibilities limit their ability to get involved?
Keep in close contact with your CEO (if you have one). Agree on a plan together. Discuss what you and the board can do to help but avoid the temptation to meddle. If you decide the board needs to be more hands-on, be sure to agree on new ground rules, and ensure its temporary. If trustees are temporarily stepping in to support with operations, make sure the lines of accountability are clear i.e. that for these activities they report to the CEO.
There is a lot of pressure on your CEO so make sure they have support. ACEVO can help. They have resources for CEOs and a dedicated helpline.
Consider all your stakeholders including funders and supporters. Make sure there are plans to communicate with them, as needed. This is a good time for you to be more visible with staff.
Take care of yourself, and don’t be too hard on yourself – these are demanding times. Don’t expect perfection. Seek out support. (Association of Chairs is here to help). And remember if you or your family are sick you may need to hand over responsibility, don’t feel bad about it, but try and plan ahead, for example agreeing on a contingency plan with your Vice Chair or other trustees.
Finally, thank you for giving your time, energy and skills to being a Chair. Together we can play a positive role in helping our communities and each other.
For more sources of support on specific issues such as financial issues, employer responsibilities and legal matters, please see our coronavirus webpage.
For additional thoughts on leading through difficult times, I recommend this ACEVO blog.
Association of Chairs is a membership organisation and registered charity which exists to support people chairing charities and not-for-profits in the UK. We are regularly updating this page of resources to help Chairs navigate through these challenging times. We are also running regular briefings and surgeries for our members. We welcome new members or you can sign up for our e-newsletter to be kept informed.
For general guidance on chairing, you can download a free copy of A Chair’s Compass.
We’re keen to support Chairs as best we can during this unprecedented situation. If you’d like information on any areas which we’ve not yet covered please email us.