Golden Rules From the Charity Boardroom

Board effectiveness

3 min read

At a time of growing demand for their services and falling levels of funding, UK charities are more squeezed than ever. Increased regulation and public scrutiny also mean there are high expectations on charity trustees. With charity leaders sharing their pessimism about the post-Brexit economy, how can the sector prepare for the challenges ahead?

Against the backdrop of ongoing economic and political uncertainty, charities in the UK are increasingly pressed to explore new income streams to maintain financial sustainability and to look for new ways to do good by adopting new technology.

Success will depend on how well-equipped organisations are to face these challenges, navigate the regulatory minefield and prepare for the future. Charities must rely on their boards to help them adapt to change and move in the right direction. Good governance in the charity sector is more important than ever and charity chairs have a crucial role to play.

Over years of working with clients to help them focus on what matters, we’ve had the pleasure of interviewing some of the leaders of the UK's charities and we've learned valuable lessons from their experience. Here, we’ve collected some of the golden rules that charity chairs live by.

Sir Douglas Flint

“Transparency and honesty.
Make sure that there is clarity of communication, not just to the outside world, but to employees so they know where they are heading. Nowadays people want to be associated with an organisation that matches their own values. They are associating themselves with a brand. You can build a tremendous loyalty by being open and transparent about the challenges. People agonise over the external communication without realising that the most important and critical audience is the people that work for you.”

~ Sir Douglas Flint 

Sir Douglas Flint is chair of Standard Life Aberdeen, IP Group, the Just Finance Foundation, the Corporate board of Cancer Research UK and is a trustee of the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity. He was previously Group Chairman of HSBC Holdings. He has held other roles, notably as a non-executive director of BP.

Read Douglas' interview here.

Sarah Bates

“Never stop learning.
Also, never say behind someone's back a thing you would't say to their face. But do be prepared to say what you think to their face!”

~ Sarah Bates

Sarah Bates is the chair of Diversity Project Charity, Merian Global Investors and Polar Capital Technology Trust. Sarah is also a Non-Executive Director at Worldwide Healthcare Trust as well as a member of the investment committee of the Universities Superannuation Scheme. She was the former Chair of the St. Joseph’s Hospice Investment Panel, St James' Place plc, the Association of Investment Companies, JP Morgan American Investment Trust, Witan Pacific Investment Trust, Stena (UK) Pension Scheme Trustees and the Kings Corner Project — a charity working with vulnerable young people.

Read Sarah’s interview here.

Paul Drechsler CBE

“Always respect others.”

~ Paul Drechsler

Paul Drechsler is the Chairman of Bibby Line Group and  London First. Paul was formerly chair of Teach First and President of the Confederation of British Industry. Prior to this, Paul was Chairman and Chief Executive of Wates Group, and Chairman of the National Skills Funding Agency.

Read Paul’s interview here.

Margaret Casely-Hayford

Foster trust and openness. So much goes wrong when people are worried about being open. If people feel that they can come to you it helps everything move forward more easily. For the relationship between board and management, that’s critical.”

~ Margaret Casely-Hayford

In addition to chairing Shakespeare's Globe, Margaret Casely-Hayford is a member of the board of the Co-op and a Trustee on the Board of the Radcliffe Trust.  Margaret was formerly chair of ActionAid UK.

Read Margaret's interview here. 

Mike Wilson CBE

“Leadership is about getting results through others, it’s about “winning”: winning and retaining talented people, winning support, winning hearts and minds, winning followers.”

~ Mike Wilson CBE

Mike Wilson was formerly Chair of the Mental Health Foundation and a Non-Executive Director of Vendome Luxury Group. Mike was the Life President of St James’s Place Group, the FTSE 250 wealth manager. Mike was also a member of Board Intelligence’s Advisory Board and provided us with a tremendous amount of strategic advice, challenge, and encouragement. Mike passed away on 28 February 2018.

Read Mike’s interview here.

What you need to know, when you need to know it

Register for our newsletter to get a monthly compilation of our latest chair interviews, governance research, and upcoming webinars and events, along with weekly round-ups of the top news that matter to board members.