Today we welcome Amy Reeve, Chair of The Change Project, to discuss the challenges of being a Chair in a post-Covid landscape.

Our Chairs in Conversation series started in 2022 as part of Trustees Week, after hearing that becoming the Chair of the Board is increasingly demanding, partly due to COVID-19 challenges, leading to fatigue and hesitance in taking on additional responsibilities.

What are your biggest challenges in your role as Chair?

The biggest challenge I face, like many others, is balancing multiple roles in life: a demanding full-time job, being a trustee in another charity, and chairing The Change Project. Finding the balance can be hard. Part of finding that balance is accepting that perfection in every role isn’t always possible all the time.

I am still new as Chair of The Change Project, which presents challenges in onboarding other new members, getting to know paid employees and finding a governance model that suits everyone. The shift to the virtual world has also presented challenges in building relationships, but it’s also opened the doors for wider accessibility for those who might not have otherwise been able to take up these roles.

How do you create a safe space for challenge and collaboration on your board?

Many of our board members are new, but we also have several who are ongoing in their roles. It’s important to take learnings from the more seasoned trustees to help with the onboarding and to help the new trustees understand the organisation. Despite being a virtual organisation, we’re making sure to have a face-to-face strategy meeting to build those relationships.

Secondly, you have to listen and understand those who work in the charity so that everyone can contribute to how the board is run today. Listen and understand different perspectives before going full steam ahead and making those changes.

I’m a very strong proponent that a chair is just another trustee who happens to guide and lead. They don’t have any additional say or an extra vote and they’re not more important than anyone else on the board. As a Chair, you have to collaborate and listen.

Finally, recruitment is key. By recruiting for diverse skills and backgrounds, you set yourself up for success from the beginning.

“I want to encourage anyone who is thinking about it just to go for it because it’s one of the absolute best things I’ve ever chosen to do.”

What guidance and support has been helpful in improving your Chairing skills?

Having been a trustee on another board for several years, I’ve been able to watch and learn from other Chairs. I model myself on what works, and I can leave out what I don’t think works.

The Charity Commission website has a lot of great tools and resources which are useful for learning how to Chair effectively.

Finally, seek feedback from the rest of the board and the CEO. By fostering the feeling that they can speak up when things aren’t going so well, you give everyone a voice. Your board will be more effective because it encourages people to speak up if things are being run in a way that they aren’t comfortable with.

What are the key things that you can do to make the Chair role more manageable?

Going back to remembering that we don’t’ have to do everything at a hundred per cent all of the time, and I think we all have to be a bit kinder to ourselves in that regard.

Also, ask for support and help when you need it. There’s a whole board and a whole organisation that are a part of your success, and you don’t have to take the whole responsibility on.

Finally, to anyone thinking about becoming a Chair or Trustee, is that age diversity is so important. I think many people with full-time jobs rule themselves out of taking something like this on with the extra burden that it can have. But I want to encourage anyone who is thinking about it just to go for it because it’s one of the absolute best things I’ve ever chosen to do.

Thank you to Amy Reeve for your time and sharing your expertise with us!

Philippa Fabry is the Director of our Not for Profit Practice. She has been recruiting transformational leaders to third sector organisations for over 17 years, which has focused on arts and culture, social justice, start up, social enterprises and social care. To learn more about how we can help you make the swap from the commercial sector to focus on purpose-driven work, you can email Philippa or connect with her on Linkedin.