Are good charity chairs born or made?

Rosalind Oakley is executive director and co-founder of the Association of Chairs. The Association of Chairs was set up three years ago to support charity and other voluntary organisation chairs and to champion good governance and leadership in the voluntary sector.


At the Association of Chairs (AoC) we have just completed a piece of work aimed at understanding where chairs and vice-chairs get support and what issues that are of concern to them. 360 chairs responded to an online survey and the results have been revealing.

Judging by the results many in our sector seem to think that a good chair arrives perfectly formed. That it’s not necessary to invest in induction, training and support.

Of course many chairs already bring with them a formidable range of skills and experience – something you will have looked for in your recruitment process. But we all need support and encouragement if we are to give of our best.

No matter how extensive your experience or illustrious your CV – every chair needs a thorough induction to the unique context of the organisation they now chair, and ongoing development. Yet our survey of 360 Chairs shows that many are not getting even basic support with the role – only 34% reported having had an induction.


Lack of support

The majority of chairs rely solely on publications for support; with no access to events, training, mentoring or coaching. Apart from publications, fewer than 50% had accessed any kind of development support in the last 12 months. Many restricted themselves to free sources of support. 37% had accessed training – two-thirds were funded by the organisation, a third paid for themselves. Just 16% had had mentoring or coaching.

Lack of investment

The survey found 46% of boards have no budget for board development; only 19% had a formal allocated budget; while the balance address development on a case by case basis. Only 3% had allocated a budget over £1,000.

But no lack of commitment

The lack of support contrasts with the commitment shown. The majority of chairs (54%) spend four days or more per month on their chairing role, and more than a third spend more than five days a month. Most time is spent by those chairing the very smallest and very largest organisations.

You can help fill the gap

Unfortunately we can’t wish effective chairs into existence – we need to take concrete, practical steps. If you are a funder – why not include a small element for governance in every grant you make. If you are a CEO or a trustee, discuss with your chair what they want support with and how to meet that need. If you are a chair ask for support – it’s a reasonable ask.

Supporting chairs needn’t be expensive. Take some time to plan an induction, or signpost to resources and support. One simple step you can take is to tell chairs about the Association of Chairs.


Want to learn more?

If you are a trustee or you work with a governance board, you may be interested in the NCVO/BWB Trustee Conference 2016. Workshops include ‘Developing high performance in your board’ and ‘What every trustee should know: Understanding your role’.

Find out more about the workshops


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