What charities really want – more mavericks
Article first published in the Maverick Paradox Online Magazine March 2020.
What charities really want – more mavericks, please! In your mind’s eye, what does a charity’s Board of Trustees look like? Socks and sandals? Jam and Jerusalem? The great, titled and good? Male, pale and stale?
So what about diverse, dynamic, visionary – and maverick?
Charities tackle the big, important things in our society: mental wellbeing, an ageing population, life-threatening illnesses, inclusive education, climate change, community arts, social justice, homelessness … and on … and on … and on …
According to the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), there are at least 166,854 charities in the UK. 82% of them have £100,000 annual turnover or below. Under UK Charity Law, every one of these has to answer to an unpaid Board of Trustees.
It’s easy to see how the combination of big purpose and volunteer Trustees can misfire.
Some of the charities that I have worked with over the last two decades have had more than their fair share of well-meaning, but ill-equipped, amateurs. Even worse, others attract professional dabblers who see a position on the Board as a nice trophy for their CV – and sometimes the charity views them as big names that are good for the masthead.
None of this is a great recipe for success.
Boards of Trustees need to diversify. There’s often a slant towards those with time on their hands, for example because they are retired and well-off. For understandable reasons, smaller charities can attract Trustees with a strong interest in their area of work – but it can turn into meddling and hinder the exercise of detached judgement. A broader mix of people on the Board also means access to a wider range of skills and experience; the perspective of different backgrounds and life experiences; and more appropriate representation of the communities in which the charity serves.
Most of all, charities need mavericks.
Not wild, unchecked, egotistical, look-at-me mavericks. But the sort of Socialised Mavericks  who shake things up, ask difficult and necessary questions, don’t accept the status quo, and want things to be better for the sake of the big things that these organisations exist to tackle. Mavericks who care too much just to accept things the way that they have always been done. Ticking along is not good enough. Not when fundraisers have sweated for every penny, there are just to many people to care for and there’s a planet to keep alive.
Mavericks matter below the Board level, too. With limited resources, it’s easy for charities to get stuck in a low-energy, unproductive rut. Spicing things up with a maverick or two can jump start a slow-moving, bureaucratic , stuck-in-its-ways management team; pull focus onto the important things, not the usual things; energise overburdened colleagues; and create the courage to pursue big, important ideas.
How can charities find mavericks, and mavericks find charities?
As examples, here are two great programmes that I have worked with over the past few years.
NCVO, in partnership with specialist recruiter Trustees Unlimited, operates a Board of Trustees placement programme called Step on Board. If you are a maverick working in a larger organisation, Step on Board is great news. It helps you find a charity that needs someone with your background, that works in a field that you care about, and equips you to become a member of its Board of Trustees. In return, you gain valuable leadership experience and develop a wider, external perspective that is impossible within the confines of a corporate job. It’s a programme that is made for the maverick!
I interviewed Step on Board participants and their employers for NCVO. They told me that placing talented colleagues on Boards of Trustees ticked the talent, leadership development and corporate responsibility boxes for the employer. It’s a sweet spot where the corporate’s talent development and social engagement agendas intersect. This is why organisations as diverse as Barclays, BlackRock, British Land, Credit Suisse, EY, Google and law firm Mishcon de Reya have placed over 300 employees on Boards of Trustees since the programme began.
Step on Board gets talented, bored, maverick people out of the day-to-day for a few days each year and into a very different environment – different issues, different scale, different people, different pace. The participants told me that they have grown in important areas such as emotional intelligence, governance skills and connectedness to customers and community. The charities feel they have gained hugely from the increase in diversity and input of skills. Everyone wins.
Another organisation that similarly links mavericks with charities is On Purpose, which has programmes running in London, Paris and Berlin. These programmes could be tailor made for mavericks. On Purpose recruits talented individuals who no longer wish to swim in the mainstream and channels them into charities and social enterprises – organisations with a strong social and environmental purpose. In a full-time year of paid placements, coaching, mentoring and leadership development, On Purpose Associates contribute their skills, knowledge and unstoppable desire to give the organisations they are placed with a good shake-up. I have seen during ten years of coaching On Purpose Associates just how much the charity and social enterprise sectors benefits from this annual injection of movers, shakers and maverick thinkers.
Charities need mavericks as Trustees, leaders, colleagues and volunteers. They can’t afford to leave their world-changing missions to bureaucrats and conformists. And mavericks are a natural fit for charities, too: we relish big challenges with an important purpose.
 © Germain J – The Maverick Paradox: The Secret Power Behind Successful Leaders 2017 PublishNation