Saturday, 25 September 2010

It's a decade!

10 years ago today I got on the metropolitan line out to Harrow ( what a trek from Stockwell! )to start the new job. CEO of ACEVO. I'd had a sheltered life as the founding Director of the National Lottery Charities Board. Now it was into the bold new world of the third sector, where money does not grow on trees or lottery tickets.

I was excited; what a challenge- leading the then 900 charity Chiefs! But, as with the way of the third sector I soon discovered the cupboard was bare! A financial crisis.

So I quickly learnt my first important lesson in managing resources.

There were 2 things I leant; one is that you do not moan publicly about not having any dosh if you want to raise more. No one gives to a failing organisation. Second, you don't sit in the office pouring over the accounts. You get out and network like hell. My Board had said to me you better stop all that and concentrate on managing the place. They were wrong. In fact my relentless networking saved the day as I got more support.

Then there were the inevitable staffing challenges ( as we CEOs call them! ).

And finally, as I wearily trekked in and out of Harrow on the dear old metropolitan line I realised we would have to move!

I quickly found that there is great comradeship amongst the sector's CEOs. I had great support. Lots of advice ( not all helpful! ). But warmth and fun. Lots of people egging me on to grow and develop a voice for sector leaders.

Signing up our 2000th member

That was why the trustees had appointed me. To bang the drum for sector leaders. To make Government listen to us. To force government to make changes in the way they finance us. To argue for sector service delivery. And to protect and enhance our voice and ability to speak truth to power.

And I think I may have delivered on the trustees original brief. In spades.
Certainly ACEVO is on the national map. And the third sector CEO is a voice in the land. We have promoted a professional sector and raised the profile of the Chief exec job ( propelry paid! ).

There have been some great highlights. Our 20th anniversary reception in No 10 was marvellous and the warm tribute that Tony Blair gave me was memorable and moving for me .

Getting FCR and long term contracts was a real advance. Persuading Blair to set up the Office of the Third Sector a real advance that last today, though renamed.

I have made some great friends over this last decade. ACEVO members are a great lot. Beat CEOs in other sectors frankly.

Any tips on success ( even if you only measure that by actually surviving )?


# get a talented team. I am incredibly lucky to have some of the brightest and most dynamic staff around.

# get a great Deputy!

# ensure you have a good Chair and Board. I am really blessed in that I have had 4 chairs and they have all been supportive and helpful. Always observing the non exec - exec balance but also offering advice in troubled times.

# having money- which means a diverse income stream and innovative ways to get more

# networking till you drop ( this can be fun but don't drink cheap wine )

# having a hinterland. There can be life outside the job it helps you keep sane.

And finally

# keep a sense of humour!

Has it been too long? I leave you to judge. I know that at least the knowledge and experience of these last 10 years will help strengthen my Leadership task in the troubled times ahead. And I'm looking forward to ACEVO's silver jubilee in 2012 !

So let me end with a quote from the blessed. John Henry Newman.

" Fear not that thy life shall come to an end, but rather fear that it shall never have a beginning".

So perhaps my last decade has been a journey preparing for one of our sector's greatest challenges

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