Ruth Lesirge – Chair
Appointed as the Association’s second Chair in 2014, I am also a volunteer working to the Chief Executive on events planning and in other operational areas of the organisation. I have served as the chief executive of two national charities, as Vice Chair of Acevo and as a trustee on several boards.
AoC is on a journey, encouraging Chairs to focus on enabling their board to add value to the work of the organisation. My ambition is for the Association to continue to be welcoming and relevant, a place where Chairs and Vice Chairs can share, debate and learn together – and encourage a new generation of effective Chairs.
John Williams – Vice Chair
I started in marketing and communications. I was co-founder and Chair of the communications consultancy Fishburn Hedges. There I developed a practice working with charities on their branding and reputation management. My single proudest work was helping change The Spastics Society into Scope.
My first trusteeship was the Family Welfare Association (now Family Action) nearly 20 years ago and I caught the governance bug – I have been Deputy Chair of ChildLine and Chair of the think tank and charity Tomorrow’s Company, which has done much to improve governance standards in public company boards. Somehow all this got me appointed a Charity Commissioner and I served for five years up to 2010. My other Chair roles have been quite different – a commercial theatre production company I co-founded, and a regional tourist board heavily dependent on public funding.
Chairing is hard, I have made plenty of mistakes, and could have done with the sort of advice, guidance and support the Association now offers. At the Charity Commission, I was struck by how little focus then was given to Chairs despite their critical role, and part of my mission has been to change that through the AoC. We’re winning.
Kate Sayer – Treasurer
I first discovered the world of charities through a volunteering role when I was a newly-qualified accountant, then decided to join the sector full-time. Since that first encounter I have been involved in training, advising, coaching and supporting charity trustees and staff. I still volunteer, and I am a non-executive director with Charity Bank which is an unpaid role on a unitary board. I am also a member of the Finance Committee of the British Asian Trust.
I am hugely impressed by the Chairs I meet - their dedication, hard work, leadership skills and commitment to their cause. Good chairing does make a difference and the Association of Chairs is making great strides forward in supporting Chairs to chair well.
Danny Curtin – Trustee
I first became a trustee at 25 and took on my first chairing role in my early 30s. I have previously been CEO of a youth charity and of a social enterprise. I now work as a facilitator and coach for charities and charity leaders.
I have seen first hand how good governance makes a difference to charity impact and to the health and wellbeing of everyone involved. AoC has a unique mission, providing a place of friendship and support for Chairs who are seeking to do things well. Since joining the board I’ve been privileged to contribute to this and I know we have more to do.
Helen Baker – Trustee
I have been a trustee with AoC for almost four years. I currently deliver training as part of the New Chairs Briefing programme and facilitate a group for Chairs of larger charities.
Having chaired my first charity in my twenties I have built a particular interest in governance and regulation. My chairing experience includes NHS trusts, housing associations, central government bodies as well as both local and national charities. I am currently Chair of Shelter.
Charities have increasingly understood the need to invest in supporting and developing executive directors but have been less quick to recognise the need for the same for Chairs. I am proud to have been a part of all that AoC has already achieved in widening the understanding and appreciation of this important role and in bringing together a growing community of Chairs to share learning and support.
Chris Cornforth – Trustee
I am Emeritus Professor of Organisational Governance and Management at the Open University Business School in the UK. I joined the Business School in 1988 to develop an innovative management programme for people working in the voluntary sector. I have published widely in academic journals and books, and in a range of publications for practitioners. I was a founder member of Oxfordshire Co-operative Development Agency and served as a board member and then Chair for a number of years. I was a board member of Oxford Citizens Housing Association from 2004-12.
Good governance is vital to the success of charities and voluntary organisations, and chairs play a crucial role in making this happen. However, being Chair can often be a challenging and lonely role. AoC offers Chairs and Vice Chairs a welcoming place where they can come together to learn and support each other. Although a small organisation our membership and reach is growing rapidly. My ambition is that we continue to support and inspire a growing number of existing and new Chairs and Vice Chairs to reach their full potential.
Nalini Varma – Trustee
I have worked in the statutory and voluntary sectors for over 30 years as a qualified social worker gaining experience of management in paid and volunteer positions. I have board experience both as a chief executive and trustee serving a range of organisations including time as a trustee of Comic Relief and Chair of their UK Grants Committee. I am a lay member of a government tribunal and the Fitness to Practice Committee of the General Pharmaceutical Council.
From my time on boards I am acutely aware of the role the Chair has in ‘leading by example’ not only for fellow trustees but also paid staff. It can be a lonely and onerous role with little support. AoC offers Chairs the opportunity to learn, make contacts and increase their confidence in the role.
A major achievement has been securing the funding from the Big Lottery Fund (now The National Lottery Community Fund) for the Beacon Programme. This was significant due to the size of the grant awarded to AoC as a small and relatively untested organisation.