Foreword written by Mandy Johnson
I was recently contacted by the CEO of a small charity. Like so many other small charities, her organisation has been struggling financially – they have not been awarded grants they were expecting and contracts have been cut over time. To address these issues, she requested an extraordinary board meeting.
After the meeting she felt even more concerned than when she went into it. Her Board had interrogated her, rather than helped her find solutions. She stopped feeling part of a team and started feeling like a naughty school girl who needed to be reprimanded. I have heard similar stories so many times from other small charity CEOs.
This week, the same woman was kind enough to share the follow up letter that she wrote to her Board. I have changed a few of the details in order to anonymise the charity (and the CEO) but the bulk of the original letter is included below.
Her words articulate so well things that I know many of us have experienced at a Board meeting. I hope you find the letter therapeutic in the way that I did – it made me feel that I was not alone. It also left me with questions – Why does this happen? How can we change this? I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts…
First, I want to say thank you. I approached all of you individually and asked you to join the board of this organisation, and without hesitation, you all agreed and that for me was very humbling. You all joined because you strongly believe in the work we are trying to do. It doesn’t matter whether it affects you directly or indirectly; you connect with the people we serve and you gave your time and expertise to want to make a change. For that I will forever be indebted to everyone single person on the board, past and present.
The journey of this charity has not been easy. It has been a struggle from day one and, with the support from the board, we have been able to weather the storm. We heard things, we have been called out on many things, some justifiable and others out of sheer pettiness, but we stayed focused on why we are here. As an organisation, we have operated on very small budget but have achieved things beyond our wildest dreams. We have capitalised on the passion of both the board and staff to drive a dream that sometimes is even scary for us, but we have also come out strong and determined.
This is why the event of this week shocked me. I came to the board meeting last week expecting us to find a solution to the financial challenge that we have. I call it a “challenge” because I see it as just another hurdle that we need to find a way of jumping over.
At last week’s Board meeting, what I needed was support, what I got was reproach.
There was no acknowledgement of the work the staff and I have put into the charity. There were no words of encouragement whatsoever about where the organisation is currently. There was no concrete plan from the board on how to solve the challenges that we are faced with.
What I heard were people trying to save themselves as fast as possible.
I have no objection to this, as I think it is important, but I felt I was being thrown under the bus.
For two weeks, my mental health has taken a deep toll. Leading up to this meeting, I was having severe panic attacks. But I kept working. I kept the staff working.
To be so unappreciated, was a big slap in the face. I have sacrificed good jobs for this organisation, because I don’t want what happened to me to happen to someone else. I always have the interest of this charity at heart. I strongly believe in the principles upon which it was founded. I will always be passionate about this issue.
Yesterday I sent an email to you all from an expert. I was expecting a response from the board but not a single person replied.
As the CEO of this charity, I face lot of struggles every day. I wish that, once in a while, someone from the board would touch base to ask how we are doing and coping. This rarely happens – some of you have never done it.
This email is not sent to lay blame, far from it. I will never do that. I know none of you have to serve on this board; you do it because you care. The intention of this email is to say that last week’s board meeting should not have gone the way it did. It has achieved very little and put all of us under stress. We are left with a challenge and no solutions. I just feel it should have been better.
I have learnt a lot from this experience and from working with the organisation. I now think it would be better for someone else to take charge. Someone who can do the work even better than I am doing but without the deep, emotional connection that I have.
I will be writing to the board officially to tender my resignation letter.
Once again, thank you for your support, your love, your service and your passion.
A small charity CEO”