Chief executives in charities and other not-for-profit bodies provide leadership and are responsible for the organisation’s administration and financial management. Working closely with the board of trustees, they develop the organisation’s long-term strategy, budget and business plan and ensure it complies with the law and regulations.
Acting as ambassador for their organisation, chief executives provide the public face for campaigns and build relationships with stakeholders in politics, the media and business. They also play a key role in motivating and engaging volunteers, staff, beneficiaries and prospective donors.
Typically a chief executive will:
- Prepare a strategic plan and annual budget for approval by the board of trustees
- Operate within the annual budget and ensure management and HR policies are up-to-date
- Recruit and work with the senior management team
- Build relationships with politicians, the media and government officials in order to advance the organisation’s aims
- Establish and monitor key indicators of the organisation’s impact and financial health
- Represent the organisation at external events and publicity opportunities
- Maintain awareness of risks and changes in the external environment that affect the organisation
- Build an effective working relationship with the chair of the trustee board
- Supply regular reports to the trustee board and attend trustee and sub-committee meetings
- Ensure the organisation’s staff and volunteers are focused on achieving its mission and aims
- Ensure the organisation fulfils its legal, statutory and regulatory responsibilities
- Establish mechanisms for listening to the views of beneficiaries on the organisation’s performance
- Deliver the organisation’s business plan and, if necessary, help the organisation to win contracts from public bodies or develop social enterprise ‘spin offs’
- Help to ensure a sustainable income from individual, corporate, legacy and trust donations
- Represent the organisation to the media and give interviews
- Leadership skills: A prime role of a chief executive is to motivate staff and volunteers and he or she needs personal drive and energy to achieve this
- Advocacy skills: Chief executives are often the public and private face of their organisation and need to be able to effectively promote its aims
- Excellent interpersonal skills: Chief executives need to build relationships with a variety of people, from beneficiaries and staff members to senior corporate executives and opinion formers
- Financial acumen: Chief executives have to set and operate a budget and, increasingly, develop social enterprise activities that provide a surplus for the organisation
- A quick learner: Chief executives need prior knowledge of the organisation they wish to work for but also, once in post, to quickly get up speed with the situations of beneficiaries and the nature of service provision and aims
An undergraduate degree is expected. A master's’ degree in the area you wish to work in – social care or development, for example - can be helpful.
Experience in senior management or organisational leadership is essential. A unique feature of the job of charity chief executive is the need to work closely with the non-executive trustee board, so any experience of working with committees or boards is advantageous. Experience of working in the same sub-sector to that of your chosen organisation is helpful but not essential. Transferring from the private or public sectors is more common than it used to be. Many chief executives are former directors or heads of fundraising in charities.
£35,000-£130,000 per annum.
Most charities will pay nearer the bottom of this scale.
Regular office hours of 9:00am-5.30pm but, in practice, many chief executives work longer. They are expected to attend networking and campaign events outside of office hours and be the face of the organisation. Working from home occasionally is common.
Career opportunitiesYour next careers steps may include:
- Chief executive for a larger organisation
- Freelance charity sector consultant
A chief executive officer's perspective
“Being a charity CEO is an honour and a privilege. The ability to directly serve the cause and to shape the approach taken to meeting a need is both intellectually challenging and personally rewarding. It’s incredibly hard work that enriches your life and makes a difference to others.”
- Caron Bradshaw, Chief Executive Officer,Charity Finance Group