Small Charity Week amplifies, supports and connects small charities across the UK. We’re proud to partner with small charities to find leaders who are inspiring, authentic and forward-thinking.

We have caught up with Kate Hainsworth, Interim CEO of Children’s Heart Surgery Fund. Native of Yorkshire, Kate is the former CEO of Leeds Community Foundation GiveBradford where she developed the four active charities delivering for communities in Leeds and Bradford over the course of 8 years to become a relational funder with a strong reputation amongst communities for delivery and for pioneering work around impact, inclusion and resilience. During that time she raised collective funds available for start-up and small community activity from local philanthropists.

An experienced board member and chair, Kate is currently involved with the Local Trust and the Young Foundation as well as chairing the steering group for the West Yorkshire Mayor’s Fair Work Charter. She has also served as a Trustee at Freedom Festival Arts Trust Hull, The Art House Wakefield, and Leeds Culture Trust which became Leeds 2023.

Children’s Heart Surgery Fund’s vision is to support hearts for life and their mission is to support the Leeds Congenital Heart Unit as a world-class centre of excellence – by providing the funding and resources needed to care for a patient’s heart, mind, family and future.

The charity is based in Leeds where the Leeds Congenital Heart Unit is the Cardiac Specialist Surgical Centre for the whole of Yorkshire, Humberside, North East Lincolnshire and North Derbyshire, a population of 5.6 million people. Congenital heart disease (CHD) occurs in 1 in 125 babies and is the most common birth defect globally. Every year they support 23,000 CHD patients, heart families and NHS staff across our region 350 patients and their families facing open heart surgery, and approximately 700 experiencing other procedures – stents, catheters, and pacemakers.

“CHSF were incredible for us, giving vouchers for food, providing toiletry bags and even offering to pay the cost of our fuel when travelling. We were a long way from home, but thanks to the parent accommodation, which is also funded by CHSF, we didn’t have to worry about where we were going to stay or how we were going to pay for it. We could just focus on putting all our efforts into being there for our baby, which was all we wanted to do.”

Mum Caley’s experience

How does your charity define resilience, and why is this critical to your mission?

Resilience is a frequently used term nowadays, following the COVID pandemic when everyone was stretched to their limits. Children’s Heart Surgery Fund (CHSF) has been around since 1988 and has therefore been repeatedly tested in terms of being able to raise funds and focus on youngsters who have experienced open heart surgery and the families whose lives have been completely changed when their child was born with congenital heart disease.  The charity is also a key support for the wellbeing of those families and adds training and support for clinical teams beyond what they can access through the NHS.

As Interim CEO, I’ve been so impressed by what the charity has achieved, and also the determination of the team and trustees to push through their personal experiences of stress to deliver what is needed for these families and children facing the worst times in their lives.

Resilience is something we need to debate when we discuss the NHS – and that’s something we should do more: discuss the NHS. The original plan for a National Health Service free of charge at the point of need has been changed beyond recognition by massive advances in healthcare but also by exponential changes in medical expectations and life expectancy. To make our wonderful jewel of a health service as resilient as it can be, let’s make time for a fully national debate about what we want from the NHS, and how charities like CHSF and the very many others that work in the medical space can and should enhance that offering. If everyone were clearer about boundaries, we’d maybe avoid some of the legal battles that are so costly in terms of resources, time, and emotional health.

How does your charity collaborate with other local organisations or businesses to strengthen community ties?

Like many small charities, time to build strong partnerships and collaborations with other local groups is thin on the ground. It has been my pleasure to introduce the charity to some of the groups I was aware of through my previous role at Leeds Community Foundation and Give Bradford.

We have also reached out to ‘sister’ charities to do our best to align what is offered through CHSF with other charities and support services. It’s never perfectly aligned, and that’s OK. There’s sometimes an urge to ‘tidy up’ charities and organisations so that they ‘make more sense’. The trouble is, charity is often bound up with personal emotional ties, and in the tidying up, you can lose those connections. I’m less worried about neatness than holes! If there’s a bit of overlap, it might mean that people don’t slip through any gaps.

Charity collaboration comes with the same obstacles as co-working in any walk of life. People defend their territory, and sometimes charities poach from or create difficulties for fellow charities – whether knowingly or not. I’m delighted to have built a good understanding with fellow charities in the cardiac and health spheres serving Yorkshire, particularly given the upcoming demands that will be created when a new hospital for Leeds is built.

Colleagues at Heart Research UK, Leeds Hospital Charity, British Heart Foundation, Candlelighters, The Sick Children’s Trust, Take Heart, The Millie Wright Children’s Charity, and many more help us promote and deliver for families, enabling and empowering the children and their families to live their lives beyond their condition, with every chance of success because we’re working together.

What are your hopes and aspirations for the future of your charity and the communities you serve?

After a lot of upheaval in recent years, I hope that CHSF has the chance to settle and stabilise and that the new strategy from 2025 will focus on delivering as much empowerment as possible for patients and families. The charity will need to choose how it supports equipping the new hospital to deliver for the future.

There will be a chance to think about how to reflect the fact that surgery is becoming more successful, and so children born with Congenital Heart Disease can now survive longer and more successfully, well into adulthood. There are now more adults living with congenital heart disease than children thanks to advances in treatment and world-class centres like the LCHU sharing their knowledge globally. Perhaps the name of the charity is ready for a revamp…?

What benefits are there in operating as a small charity, that larger charities can’t compete with?

Small charities can operate so closely to their beneficiary groups, they tend to reflect more accurately the current needs of those groups, and their aspirations. Being community-led is better because it avoids any unhelpful power dynamic between those who generate funds and those using them.

As a trustee of the Young Foundation and Local Trust I’ve been lucky enough to learn more about different ways community-led charities and research can drive change. Participation, empowerment and amplification of community voices and ideas always take longer, and can feel like a monumental uphill struggle, but is always, always worth it. When bigger entities ‘land’ on a small community and try to organise it, or ‘make it better’, the net effect is often a setback for that community. If bigger charities were humble enough to research their target area fully, listen, and work with the smaller charities already delivering there, they would earn the trust of communities and avoid reinventing what already exists.

How do you attract and retain staff in a competitive market? Are there different development opportunities that working in a small charity can provide?

It is hard.

At the end of the day, smaller charities struggle to pay top market rates. My approach is to strive for a top-class work experience and culture and demonstrate how staff are valued through training, opportunities for progression, teamwork, communication, and trust. Small charity workers are motivated by many things besides money, and by listening hard and feeding as many of those things as we can, we can provide fulfilling, varied and aspirational work for our colleagues.

What are the most important lessons you have learned from your experience as a CEO of a small charity?

It’s just like any other business: well-run small charities are good places to work and attract good people, but you can’t rest on your laurels. It’s a constant refuelling and re-evaluation journey. And that’s without the constant changes in legislation and environment.

However, it’s a privilege to work in a field that delivers meaningful change for people. As leaders in our sector, we need to respect that privilege by taking nothing for granted, listening hard, staying authentic, speaking up when needed, and expecting the best of ourselves and those around us.

Bill Yuksel is our Head of Not for Profit Appointments, with over 35 CEO appointments across England, Wales and Scotland. With a true passion for social change and a drive to match motivated candidates with organisations where they can make a difference, please email Bill or connect with him on Linkedin to find the leaders you need for your community foundation.