What keeps Chairs of smaller charities awake at night?

The Association of Chairs (AoC) is a membership organisation supporting Chairs / Vice Chairs of charities and social enterprises in England and Wales. We help people to lead and run effective trustee boards.

Chairing a small charity can be extremely tough as well as rewarding. It can be a challenge to run an effective board of trustees and steer the organisation. When your charity has limited resources, these tasks can feel more difficult to overcome.

We have been meeting Chairs and Vice Chairs of all kinds of smaller charities (with an income of under £1 million) through our Beacon Programme. Common themes and challenges facing Chairs have been emerging.

Here are the top five issues keeping Chairs awake at night, based on discussions from our module 1 workshops. We have included some ideas about support available for Chairs if these issues are challenging you too.

1. Attracting and keeping the right trustees

Concern: how can we attract and keep trustees with the right skills, knowledge and experience who have the time to devote to the role?

Issue: In a smaller charity, trustees are often required to play a more active role in overseeing the organisation’s operations meaning more time and commitment. Finding and keeping the right people can be hard.


2. Funding and financial sustainability

Concern: how can we manage with dwindling resources? How can we find new sources of income? Do the board have the knowledge and skills to be able to manage the finances?

Issue: In a smaller charity, the board needs to be hands-on with the finances and fundraising. Everyone needs to feel confident that they are making the right decisions and managing adequate financial oversight.


  • Resources in Module 2 (Strengthening your Organisation) look at how to maintain good financial oversight. For example, our ‘Financial governance self-assessment tool’ helps you think about how to improve your financial governance
  • CFG offer Small Charity Finance Support.

3. Succession planning

Concerns: X is stepping down, how can we replace them?

Issue: smaller charities often rely on a few key individuals (such as the Chair, Treasurer, a few trustees, the CEO, a few staff and / or volunteers). These people often juggle the governing, managing and coordinating of the organisation’s activities and hold a lot of important knowledge. Therefore succession planning is vital to ensure there is enough time for hand-over. Often it is not considered until it is too late. Finding a replacement can be a real headache.


  • New resources coming soon via Beacon Programme’s module 4.

4. Board relationships

Concern: the board is not always effective, we have the same conversations at each meeting, one person tends to dominate proceedings.

Issue: managing tensions in the board and creating a productive culture is not straightforward or easy. People are complex and sometimes unpredictable. Their conduct and motivations vary as do their levels of self-awareness.


5. Relationship with CEO

Concern: my CEO is hard to work with. We just don’t connect.

Issue: A strained relationship creates tension throughout a small organisation. Creating a relationship that brings out the best in both the Chair and CEO takes time and effort.


About Beacon

Beacon is a three-year programme funded by the National Lottery Community Fund. It delivers four low-cost workshops, each running across nine locations from Cornwall to Newcastle. Free webinars complement these sessions for people who have less time, missed dates or who are unable to get to the workshop locations. Every module has a library of online resources including toolkits, self-assessment tools and guides. The programme is free to join. Join Beacon today!

This is a new version of an Association of Chairs blog post, updated here for Small Charity Week.

Need more support, check out the FSI’s Essential Trustee video series, perfect for trustee new and old to have a refresher on their duties.

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