Charities try to be everything to everyone and don’t say no enough

Date: 02 Mar 2016

Bumblebee Design

Rob Williamson CEO, Community Foundation says no money or support of any kind comes to a charity without trust and reputation. So investing in those is core to everything we do. 

What are the basics that need to be in place to run a charity well?

A committed, thoughtful Board that gets the charity’s purpose and understands their collective role as trustees, and which works effectively with a great CEO who balances time in the helicopter with rigorous understanding of the day-to-day activities.

What are your tips for leadership success?

Find a good mentor and a few great peers whose ideas and advice you trust. Don’t lose sight of the detail but let your team get on with their jobs. Invest time in your organisation’s governance. 

Do you review your services for effectiveness, if so, how often and what methods are used?

We benchmark with others annually through our national network, UK Community Foundations, and also look to good practice in the US and Canada. We assess all our grants to see how well they succeed. And we seek feedback from donors and grantees – most recently through a major anonymous survey of grant recipients conducted for us by the US-based Center for Effective Philanthropy 

Is fundraising the biggest issue?

As an organisation seeking to grow philanthropy to serve our area, the simple answer is yes, but actually no money or support of any kind comes without trust and reputation. So investing in those is probably core to everything we do. 

What mistakes are made by charities that could easily be rectified?

Not paying enough attention to governance. Trying to be everything for everyone and not saying no enough.

Which matters most? A good brand, creating impact with your charities work or ethics?

In the sense that ethics translate as reputation and values, I’d say the latter as the charity’s brand comes from that. 

Who are your role models?

Fiona Ellis who was my boss before I joined the Community Foundation. 

What charity CEO’s do you admire? 

Julia Unwin at Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Paul Farmer at Mind

Caron Bradshaw at Charity Finance Group

Rob Williamson Biography


Rob is Chief Executive of the Community Foundation Serving Tyne & Wear and Northumberland. The Foundation enables effective community philanthropy, offers grants and other support and seeks to inform and influence community issues. Based in Newcastle upon Tyne, it is the largest community foundation in the UK, holding an endowment of over £60 million and making grants in the year ending March 2014 of more than £5 million.


Previously, Rob was Director of Policy and Communications at Northern Rock Foundation, a major corporate foundation. He began his career working with homeless and vulnerable people. He went on to a development role working on the sector’s engagement in urban regeneration. He then spent three years in local government, working on voluntary sector policy, grant aid, community engagement and equalities.


Rob has been a trustee of several national, regional and local charities and has sat on a range of advisory bodies. He is currently a board member of UK Community Foundations and a trustee of Millfield House Foundation, and he sits on the BBC’s Charity Appeals Advisory Committee.

Citywealth top ten charity CEO’s 2016

Chosen for their gravitas, impact, leadership, fiscal competence, brand and ethics.

Paul Breckell, CEO, Action on Hearing Loss

Henny Braund, CEO, Anthony Nolan

Claire Horton, CEO, Battersea Cats and Dogs

Gillian Guy, CEO, Citizens’ Advice

Rob Williamson, CEO, Community Foundation, Tyne and Wear 

Debra Allcock Tyler, CEO, DSC -Directory of Social Change

Petra Ingram, CEO, The Brooke

Robert Robson, CEO, The Royal Navy & Royal Marines Charity

Simon Hopkins, CEO, Turn2us

David Nussbaum, CEO, WWF UK

Also recommended…

Paul Farmer, CEO, Mind