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Why We Set Up ZAP – A Networking Group for CEOs of Small Charities, by Jane Hudson Jones and Marina Pacheco


Can you tell us a little about the organisations that you represent?

Marina: My first CEO role was of a scientific society called The Mammal Society, after a number of roles in senior positions within the environmental NGO sector. I am now the founder of a freelancing website for the sustainability, environmental and earth sciences sectors. I moved in this direction because there is an ability to work more flexibly now than has ever been possible before and I am enjoying developing a portfolio career. This new flexibility in the labour force is a benefit for individuals and also for charities. I bring this insight into flexible working/use of freelancers to bear in ZAP! Pioneering Change – the new think and do tank that Jane and I are setting up.

Jane: I’ve been CEO of three small charities over the course of more than a decade, and am currently Interim CEO at United Way UK, an innovative and strategic charity driving collective, cross-sector impact in local communities across the UK. I took the decision to go freelance, through Lotus Consultancy, as a consultant, coach and mentor because it gives me the flexibility to be more strategic in the sector.


What is the best thing about running a small charity?

Marina: There are lots of great things about running a small charity. When you’re small you can be flexible and quick to adapt, you can move more quickly than the larger charities to take advantage to changes in your field. In a small charity everybody knows everybody else, you can work as a team and communication is almost instantaneous as everyone is usually involved in all projects. I also firmly believe you get more for your money, small charities deliver huge amounts on really tiny budgets.

Jane: I strongly agree with Marina here. Small charities are far more responsive, and can move from inception to execution very quickly. Larger, hierarchical organisations are far more bureaucratic and process driven. Smaller charities also tend to have greater levels of connection with their beneficiary groups, which is critical for trust and commitment.


What do you consider to be the biggest challenges of running a small charity?

Marina: Resources! There is never enough time, money or staff to do all the hundreds of things necessary to keep the organisation running, growing and developing.

Jane: One of the main challenges for the small charity CEO is the heavy operational focus, where skill-sets (and therefore resources) are not optimised. In a world where we’re all competing for ever-diminishing resources, this structure can be inefficient and frustrating.


Tell us why you set up the network

Marina: Running a small charity is a challenge, and when speaking to fellow CEOs the same problems kept cropping up primarily the massive burden on the CEO. There is no senior management team in a small charity, all promotion, strategy, staff management, income generation, etc. etc. falls to the CEO. It can be very lonely and very tough and the same thought kept coming back to me whilst I was doing it, there has got to be a better way! The problem was that I didn’t have the time to even think about it, now we do, and I’d like to see significant change come about through ZAP!

Jane: Every time I spoke to other CEOs they were going through the same challenges as me. Last year, when I was working at Endometriosis UK and focused on the value and importance of peer support, I began asking my counterparts who they turned to when the going got extra tough. Everyone felt the same thing – there’s no-one to turn to: I’m expected to be superhuman. Around the same time I’d begun talking with Marina. We realised that this was a huge unmet need in the sector, and that supporting CEOs in small charities would create a more efficient sector with optimal services for beneficiaries.


How can people get involved?

We want to hear from people. We are pulling together our thoughts on what small charities could look like in the future, and what steps we can take to have the greatest impact. To do this we need to hear from current and past CEOs and trustees. We’ll be putting together formal questionnaires and holding workshops, the first being at I Am, but in the meantime if anyone has a burning issue or area they think needs improvement or a solution they have already come up with, we want to hear about it.


What would you like people to bring to the network?

An open mind on possible directions. We have come up with some pretty radical ideas, some of which may threaten the current status quo. Our knee jerk response to some of them was hell no. But a bit of reflection resulted in us reconsidering some of the possibilities such as paying trustees for their time. We’d like people to think as broadly as possible on what can be done is a state of positive enquiry and to send us all their ideas.


What advice would you offer to aspiring CEOs of small charities?

Marina: Go in there and make a difference. You’ll be excited about your new role and that’s great, that enthusiasm will carry you far. Also remember that people might not interpret what you say in the way you’ve intended, so repeat yourself often, make sure people always understand what you are doing and why you are doing it. This is especially important with trustees.

Jane: No matter how pressing operational matters get, it’s vital – and right – that you take time out to network, think and plan. As CEOs we owe this to the causes we lead, and if not now, then when: if not you, then who? You also owe it to yourself to keep balanced, healthy and free from burnout. Again, if you’re not taking good care of yourself, who will?


Is there anything else that you would like to say?

We are in a period of radical change both financially and in the way people are able to work in the modern world. Use this as an opportunity for change, embrace the new and ditch the old ways of working if they no longer deliver for your beneficiaries.


Jane Hudson Jones is the founder and CEO of Lotus, the charity management and coaching consultancy with a focus on helping charities improve the way they run, and actualize their ambitions. A trusted charity expert with 12 years as a CEO and Trustee in the sector, Jane helps organisations and individuals make transformation achievable, sustainable and more engaging. You can find out more about Jane at www.lotusconsultancy.org and follow @jane_ceo: www.twitter.com/@jane_ceo

Marina Pacheco is the founder of the recently launched https://www.seesjobs.com, a jobs website for Sustainability, Environment and Earth Science freelancers. A senior leader and experienced CEO, Marina brings a wealth of knowledge, experience and passion to the charity and environmental sector.


You can join Jane and Marina at the inaugural meeting of the Small Charity CEO Network on 7 July in Central London.


What is I Am all about?

What do we do? We love connecting people in charities, professional membership associations and social enterprises to learn, share knowledge, make meaningful connections and find jobs!  We organise regular social networking and learning events and help people find jobs through our recruitment services.

Looking for work? Check out our vacancies here.

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1 Response

  1. Exciting developments! Sorry I can’t be with you on 7th July, but am sending some info about Beanstalk and Space to Think. I run a charity that’s probably now in the medium sized category, and also have an executive coaching business and run very low cost coaching groups for women CEOs of smaller charities. We really do need to combine forces.

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