Ethics are the foundation of a charity brand and its impact

Date: 02 Mar 2016

Bumblebee Design

Simon Hopkins, CEO, Turn2us who fight UK poverty, says passion can steamroller the objectivity of  decision making in charities. The key is to remember that you’re still running a business.

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

Talent and unity. Everything else comes from these two. My main priorities are to ensure we’ve got great people, give them a shared vision and strategy and the tools to make collaboration the norm, and then get out of their way.

What are your tips for leadership success?

I think authenticity is key. Share your strengths with others and be open and positive about what you don’t know. I don’t believe leadership is about power, control and infallibility any more. That is something to be celebrated. Humility is underrated as a leadership attribute in my view. You have to bring some important and relevant experience to the table as a charity CEO, for sure, but the ability to openly acknowledge you can’t do everything is a strength, not a weakness.

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

All the time. We’ve recently gone through a change programme which has forced us to look objectively at how we do everything. This has necessitated learning from other organisations and adopting different methods. But it’s equally important to foster a culture of continual improvement. It’s dangerous to expect that beneficial change only comes when you undertake restructuring.

Is fundraising the biggest issue?

I’d widen this one out to look at financial sustainability more widely. We’ve seen some high profile closures caused by a lack of sustainability and every charity CEO needs to understand that financial strategy and organisational strategy are indistinguishable. Fundraising is very hard work and it is not getting easier. But it should be hard work, we’re asking people to give to us as an act of faith. If we aren’t doing well it means we have to step up our act on articulating why our work matters. And that involves revalidating that work to ourselves, which is crucial and positive.

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

I came into the sector later in my career so maybe I have a particular view which reflects a background on the commercial world. I do think sometimes the passion can steamroller the objectivity of the decision making. The key is to remember that you’re still running a business; it’s just a business that exists to make society better. I realise that there is a lot of criticism that charities are becoming more business-like but how on earth can we make our work reliable without good risk management, financial planning, policies and standards? I routinely hear real life stories that are heart-breaking and inspiring in equal measure and yet I still have to wear my ‘business head’ on a daily basis. What advice would I give to anyone to avoid the situation where the heart always overrules the head? Above all else, make sure you have the right mix on your board and that your trustees have a strong level of intellectual curiosity. And make sure you have the best finance team you can get.

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

Without doubt, ethics. It’s the foundation of both your brand and impact. Without it, the other two are just spin.

Who are your role models?

My role models are my parents. They always encouraged us to be as good as we could be doing something we loved doing, but never to get carried away by our own publicity.

What charity CEO’s do you admire?

I can think of two inspiring women in this sector who have taught me a huge amount without even realising it. I won’t name them as they’d be embarrassed. But what they have in common is a phenomenal mastery of their brief, an ability to inspire through the way they communicate and a genuine humility, both these individuals are happiest when they are celebrating someone else’s brilliance. That’s a rare and truly admirable quality.


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