Why strong relationships are crucial: an interview with a nonprofit CEO

On June 29th and 30th, Cass CCE and Roffey Park will launch ‘Partnership for Impact: investing in the Chair-Chief Executive relationship’, a residential programme designed to strengthen the relationship between nonprofit Chair and CEOs. We spoke to Paul Breckell, Chief Executive at Action on Hearing Loss, to hear why he feels the programme is so important.  

The sector is seeing a lot of change, what are the biggest challenges for nonprofit CEOs & Chairs currently?

The governance responsibilities are larger than ever before, from safeguarding to data protection compliance to funding. There have been a number of issues in the sector that shine a light on the importance of strong leadership.

It’s about making sure the board and the executive leadership team work together, and understanding each other’s roles.

Trust in charities has taken a knock in light of everything that’s going on in the wider world. It’s still a challenging time with austerity and funding, even a decade on from the economic crash, with much more sluggish economic growth. It’s a challenging environment for charities relying on statutory income. Whilst the British public continue to be generous, there’s more pressure than ever on charities.

Why is trust between the Chair-CEO so important?

It’s essential. If there’s no trust or mutual respect, the partnership isn’t going to be successful. Speaking as someone who has been the Chair of a charity too, you don’t want there to be any surprises. Someone who will make sure you’re well briefed of what’s happening and provide you with a clear understanding of the position of the charity is so important. For the CEO, you need to ensure there’s trust and respect so you can have honest and open conversations.

This programme targets Chairs and CEOs in their first 18 months of working together. What should be the main focus for pairs during this time?

I think during the first 18 months you need to quickly build a strong rapport and understand each other’s working styles. The work of both Cass CCE and Roffey Park is styled on the human dimension of work. If the recruitment of second member of the pair is done right, hopefully it’s something that’s built into the process. Here, we recruited a new Chair 15 months ago, certainly one thing that the committee were looking to do was thinking about the chemistry between us.

Why is it important pairs get this right in the first 18 months of working together? Patterns are set during this time that are hard to change. It’s important to get this right in order for the organisation to motor forward.

This programme is a good opportunity for Chairs and CEOs to step back and reflect on how they envisage their partnership working. Why is this important?

There can be a lot of pressure on this relationship. An intervention in the form of a programme like this will be really beneficial for nonprofit pairs.

A big focus for you is leadership within the charity sector. There are relatively few professional development programmes that focus on this specifically. Why do you think it’s so important?

Really high performing, person-centred leadership is so important in our sector. In the modern world, people expect that from their leaders. The days of working remotely in a hierarchy are gone and I think leaders need to be able to manage their interactions really well. Broad webs of relationships as a leader are really important, whether that’s as Chair or Chief Executive.

Having had a connection with Cass CCE and as a trustee for Roffey Park, I’m really excited about the potential of this programme. This is a perfect blend of things coming together; you have the preeminent UK centre that focusses on charity sector leadership joining forces with Roffey Park, an organisation with a rich history and strong pedigree in terms of person-centred leadership. This feel like an ideal combination.

If you have any questions, please email CassCCE@city.ac.uk