Hopefully more often than not, you have experienced enormous respect for a Chair who is able to navigate a full agenda, giving time to the most important issues, making sure everyone contributes and then enabling the group to reach a conclusion and agree a way forward.

Yet running board meetings is only part of the role of a charity Chair. When things are going smoothly the many other governance responsibilities may seem relatively straightforward but as Murphy’s Law states “If anything can go wrong it almost certainly will” and so a Chair has to be prepared to step in and deal with the unexpected – from losing a CEO and having to act as interim leader while initiating a crucially important recruitment process, to dealing with difficult or inappropriate behaviour by other trustees or acting as spokesperson in a PR crisis situation.

Photo by The Coach Space on Pexels

The relationship between the Chair and CEO is the lynchpin that determines the success or otherwise of a charity and getting that relationship right must be a key objective for any Chair (as well as the CEO). In times of great challenge, or simply when a charity is going through a period of major change, then stakeholders will inevitably look to the Chair for oversight and direction. This is a time for the CEO and chair to work closely together or if that is not possible then the Chair must be prepared to take on the leadership role and guide the charity through the turbulence.

Whether taking on chairmanship for the first time or whether well established in the role, it can be very useful to have access to someone who can act as a confidential and objective sounding board especially when dealing with new, challenging or complex situations.

Charity Mentors works with Chairs as well as CEOs and we can enable you to develop your thinking and problem solving in many different ways.

Here are just some examples of how we have successfully supported Chairs to:

  • Consider obstacles or issues from different perspectives
  • Develop a clearer understanding of the role of the Chair and board in a small charity
  • Separate governance from operational matters
  • Ensure trustees maintain effective oversight
  • Improve the quality and decision making of trustee meetings
  • Recruit and retain committed trustees
  • Seek ways to fully engage all trustees
  • Develop a positive and productive relationship with the CEO
  • Develop a strategy, including preparation for a strategic away day
  • Work through unexpected and difficult issues

We can promise absolute confidentiality from an experienced mentor whatever challenges you are facing whether as a Chair, Co-chair, Vice Chair or Chair-designate.

To get in touch you can email us at:

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Pete Wallis from SAFE! talks about his experience of setting up and chairing a charity for 10 years. Now Vice Chair at SAFE!, Pete came to Charity Mentors when the small Oxfordshire charity was at a turning point; growing quickly having just won a £1mn contract over 3 years to deliver services across the Thames Valley.

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In each issue, we introduce you to one of our mentors by telling you about their experience and giving you their answers to 3 questions, to include their own ‘top time-saving tip’.

Elizabeth Paris

Elizabeth Paris

Following a career in Investment Banking as a Managing Director at JP Morgan, Elizabeth has experience as Chair and board member on public and not-for-profit boards at national, regional and local levels. Current roles in Oxfordshire include Chair, The Oxford Playhouse, Trustee at SOFEA and Trustee at Be Free Young Carers. She is a Deputy Lieutenant of Oxfordshire, leading the Lieutenancy Convening Group for families and children and is also the DL with responsibility for Didcot. She is an Associate Fellow at the Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, and a focus on women and entrepreneurship includes roles as a World Bank Consultant with the IFC, with the Goldman Sachs Foundation, as well as teaching women entrepreneurs from China to W. Africa.

1. What do you feel is your greatest achievement?
It was my good fortune to be part of the team who founded The Orwell Youth Prize – a charity that asks young people what they think, teaches them the skills to communicate powerfully and then amplifies their voices. And wow what a result! Focusing especially on areas where young people had not had many opportunities, the charity goes into schools and youth groups all over the country. And the young people write – they write about their lives and about the futures they hope for. It’s a bit of a cliche to say we should listen more to young people, but I remain hugely impressed by the wisdom and insight from these young voices.

2. What do you like to do outside of work?
I’ve always enjoyed nature and gardening, and more time at home during the pandemic has helped me to pause, and enjoy even the couch grass that got into the lavender. Last winter a pheasant became so tame he started coming every day to the bird feeder, and I’m hoping he will be back again this winter.

3. As a busy person wearing various hats, what’s your ‘top time-saving tip’ ?

I have a confession. Even when I know I have a huge and important piece of work ahead, like a strategic review, I still keep responding to emails and taking calls instead of getting started on it. So my top tip to myself is to break the large task into bitesize pieces and actually book them into my diary. That clears space to get started, and I know I will do it because it has been booked in the diary.