Put yourself in their shoes – a post for CEOs

by Stuart on 1 December 2010

Trustees – love ‘em or hate ‘em, if you work for a charity, you have to live with ‘em.

It’s not easy being the chief executive (or director, or whatever) of a charity, and some I know view trustee meetings with dread. It needn’t be like that.

It helps to remember the different roles.

Trustees are responsible for the charity. Specifically, they are responsible for ensuring that the resources of the charity are expended in furthering the aims of the charity, and for ensuring that the charity acts lawfully. That’s quite a responsibility, especially when you think that they may not meet that often, and they leave the day to day management to the staff. A consequence of this role is that trustees should concern themselves with the big picture – the charity’s strategic plans, overall policies etc.

The CEO is responsible for implementing the trustee’s decisions, and putting their strategic plans into practice. You, as the CEO, are responsible for the day to day management of the charity. You know all the detail and the trustees don’t, but they are the ones who are ultimately responsible for the decisions.

So when it comes to approving the budget, bear in mind that you have spent a good deal of your time playing with the numbers, estimating, juggling, changing, and they will have a few hours to read the information you have prepared for them, and will have a small amount of time to decide if your assumptions are correct, and if they are happy with the budget. To get the best out of the trustee meeting then, put yourself in their shoes, and now write the paper. Remember they are not on top of all the details, as you are. You need to remind them of decisions made. You need to explain assumptions in light of their knowledge, not yours.

And speaking as a trustee here, please don’t work really hard to make your report short – I would far prefer a 5 page report in English to a 3 page report in unintelligible finance-speak (just what does ‘leverage the cost-base variance’ really mean?)

These thoughts were prompted by a conversation I had with one of my trustees, and it made me realise that a little thought on my part would make his life so much easier, and therefore would make mine easier too.

It would be interesting to hear your experiences – please comment.

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