Learning while leading: insights from recruiting ACEVO’s new chair

ACEVO CEO, Vicky Browning, reflects on the recruitment process for ACEVO’s new chair

On Monday, I was thrilled to announce that the chair elect of ACEVO is Gingerbread CEO, Rosie Ferguson. Rosie will bring knowledge, commitment and, she promises, fun to her new role with us.

Despite being a charity CEO for nearly nine years, this was the first time I have been involved with external recruitment of a chair, one of the most influential positions within any charity. So I thought I would share my thoughts on what went well and what I may do differently next time.

What I learnt

  1. We have more to do to ensure the role is inclusive and open to a broader pool of candidates

The field was diverse in some perspectives: 64% of applicants were female, we had applicants from large and small organisations, from leaders just starting out and leaders with a number of different CEO positions in their CV. However none of the 13 applicants were from a BAME background and none declared having a disability.

Our chair recruitment process was led by Peridot Partners, one of our corporate partners. Before we started recruiting I talked to Peridot about diversity of thought and experience being a priority for me, the board and the organisation. During the process, we approached a large number of diverse leaders. Whilst the longlist of candidates approached was very strong, this didn’t translate into as broad a level of diversity in applications as I would have liked. However, using a recruiter who is able to spend time talking to a lot of potential candidates allowed us to understand some of the barriers to attracting a diverse list that we can consider next time we recruit.

  1. Relatively few CEOs have chair experience

One of these barriers is that we required applicants to have previous experience chairing a board. Representation and diversity in executive and non-executive leadership is not as good as it should be, so requiring candidates to both be a charity chief executive, and have chairing experience, limits the diversity of talent able to apply for the position. In future the board will have a specific discussion on the potential impact of recruitment criteria on attracting diverse candidates and communicate these decisions openly with our members.

Feedback from the recruiter we worked with was that a number of candidates were strong across other recruitment criteria but did not have experience chairing a board.

If you are a member and you think that ACEVO should be looking at what we can do to support, train or encourage CEOs interested in taking up trustee or chair positions then please get in touch and let us know.

What went well?

  1. Starting conversations about succession early.

The board started discussing recruiting a new chair seven months before we put out the advert. This allowed the trustees to really consider the skills and experience they wanted in our next chair and whether our articles of association enabled us to attract a large enough number of candidates. These discussions resulted in a decision to alter our articles of association to allow ACEVO members that do not sit on the board to apply for the position of chair. This instantly expanded the pool of talent we were looking at from 11 to over 1,100.

  1. Working with a recruiter.

One of the most valuable things about working with a recruiter is that they could provide feedback and guidance throughout. In fact a number of the things I’ve learned have stemmed from conversations between our current chair, Joe Irvin, myself and Peridot’s recruitment team.

  1. Learning from the ideas of applicants and interviewees.

We received 13 applications from a strong, experienced, knowledgeable list of leaders. Of those applicants five were shortlisted to be interviewed.

Every applicant and interviewee had new, exciting ideas about how ACEVO can better achieve its vision and purpose. I will be following up with all the applicants because their ideas will strengthen ACEVO and this fresh thinking has been an unexpected bonus to the recruitment process.

Finding a new chair has been much more then just a box-ticking recruitment process. It has been an opportunity to learn, to get feedback from the members that applied, and to think critically about our current processes.

To any CEOs thinking about recruiting their next chair, I encourage you to invest time and energy into the process, to be open to the ideas and passion that applicants bring, and to collect information about who did, and did not apply so that you can improve in the future.


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