Picture of bronze sculpture of a half-face lying in a beautiful meadow garden.Two years ago, I scored what I thought would be my dream job as the director of a (still) fantastic charity. Instead, I felt empty and as though this was a Pyrrhic victory.

Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I wanted to share what I learned about the mindset of being a charity director, both for those aspiring to do this and those already doing it (wondering if what they feel is normal).

  • First off, action and momentum in delivering your organisation’s mission are the key reasons for being in this role. You may be used to waiting for others to tell you what to do. This is now on you. It means people are looking to you to tell them what to do. And it is very weird.
  • The standards you set will matter. If you fail to set the right standards or your standards conflict with those of the organisation, then you need to seriously consider your future.
  • As a charity director, irrespective of your directorate, you will do less of the day-to-day work. Get over it. You may miss what you previously did, but that is the reality of this work.
  • You will be expected to be first in, last out. In terms of time, emotion and restraint in arguments. You have to take on some of the tough jobs, while also devolving some to your team (so they don’t feel left-out). This is an extremely tough balancing act.
  • Whichever directorate you are leading, you will always be expected to have one eye on the financial impact of any decision, not just on your directorate, but also on the wider charity.
  • You will need to consistently demonstrate that you are thinking about how the organisation delivers and increases its impact.
  • Getting on with the CEO (obviously) is vital, but so is cultivating relationships at every level. A relationship is definitely not the same as friendship, it means being able to get on and collaborate with others to the benefit of the wider organisation.
  • It is normal to feel lonely as a director. I did. Prior to this, I had been at the centre of a number of teams, delivering real improvements in people’s lives. The absence of this and the friendships that came with it was very difficult. And something that I was certainly not prepared for.
  • You need to be constantly thinking ahead and setting up plans for the future. Every day. But your time will be limited, as you’ll also be firefighting. Every day. Get used to this duality.
  • Finally, never moan. You chose this. If you don’t like it, do something else. There is another life out there, which can be just as amazing.

What do you think?

  1. Have you recently stepped up to be a director? How are you finding it? What has surprised you? Share your experience in the comments below.
  2. Want free thoughts and insights on how to increase your charity’s impact? Sign up for Top Tips for Tough Problems, giving you tools, ideas and stories to inspire you innovating.
  3. Are you facing a tough problem in your charity and would like to make faster progress? Let’s have a coffee.
Mindset of a charity director
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4 thoughts on “Mindset of a charity director

  • March 28, 2017 at 7:45 pm

    Hey Patrick. A great piece. Sounds as though you’ve been on quite a journey. For what it’s worth although not a director I’m now doing the balancing act you write about so well…and am loving it!

    • March 29, 2017 at 7:33 am

      Hi Sian,

      Great to hear from you. And well done. Is great to see talented people thriving in the charity sector. Another friend came up with the phrase, “may we prosper despite the chaos”, which feels rather apt.


  • October 26, 2017 at 1:56 pm

    As a Director, I think your comments are spot on: very insightful and worth keeping front-of-mind


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