The Chief Executive of the Charity Commission will have completed her three year contract this Summer and is not intending to stay on according to the press releases and articles such as this one. The fact is that that the Charity Commission is in a crisis of its own making and whilst the greatest problems are clearly down to its Chairman William Shawcross the role of the CEO should be more strategic than just to run the team who act on Shawcross’s statements such as expecting a consultation on how the sector could fund the Commission to be taken seriously when he had already declared what he expected the outcome to be. Of course finding someone willing to work with Shawcross and his Board made up exclusively of people over 50, all of whom are white, mostly male, from the South of England who between them have next to no experience of the real world of charities will not be easy. According to her Government website listing, Paula Sussex the current CEO has six years experience as a board member for Crisis. Whilst six years as the Trustee of a large national charity may not be the most comprehensive grounding in charity work, this puts her head and shoulders above most of the board members on the Commission whose charitable experience is far from extensive. However charities such as Crisis are rare in the context of charitable work. There are some 165,000 charities registered on the Commission website and around 2000 have a turnover of more than £5M which means that Crisis with a turnover of some £25M is probably in the ‘top’ 0.2% or so of the sector by income. Being a board member of a very large charity distances Trustees from the day to day struggle that many smaller charities face, I know that because of my own charitable experience. The Charity Commission website helpfully breaks down the sector into a range of income bands:
£0 – £10,000; £10,001 – £100,000; £100,000 – £500,00; £500,000 – £5m; £5m upwards
I have been Trustee, volunteer or worker in several charities in all of those bands and whilst each was unique, there were many common challenges at each size of organisation. Whoever is recruited to replace Paula Sussex this Summer needs to find a way of bringing to the board experience from across the sector, taking into account the existing, albeit limited experience that is currently held within the small group of privileged and inexperienced board members. All charities are expected to ensure that their own board does as much as it can to reflect the needs and experience of those the charity is trying to serve and support. This must become true of the charity commission itself or else its work will become even more disconnected from the sector it is supposed to be regulating than is the case currently.
After I wrote this blog I was sent a copy of the Advert for the new post. The critical paragraph is: We are looking for an exceptional and inspirational senior leader who is both experienced and credible at board level. You will have a proven track record of leading a complex and demanding organisation through a period of significant technology-led and cultural change. You will be able to command stakeholders’ confidence, while maintaining independence of action and approach, and be able to operate effectively in an environment subject to the highest levels of scrutiny. First class communication skills, strong financial acumen and drive are also essential together with the commitment and authority needed for this nationally important role.
Not only has Shawcross not defined what he means by stakeholders – potentially the Government and funders as much as charities themselves, but also he has not explained what he means by commanding their confidence. It is vital that this paragraph is rewritten to call for some personal experience of the work of charities!