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A charity’s biggest asset: passion

12 July 2012

The subject of this week’s Cass CCE charity talk was what makes a leader caring but effective? The debate covered everything from the role of sharing cakes, knowing when to delegate and when to meddle, to a story about chickens. Both the panel and audience agreed that there is no single approach to effective leadership but there are essential characteristics that crop up again and again.

Sir Nicholas Young, Chief Executive of British Red Cross brought colour to the discussion relaying the lessons he’d learnt from other leaders in the sector including Sue Ryder and former Chief Executives at The British Red Cross and Macmillan Cancer Support. Life as a leader is not always easy, with daily tough decisions like agonising over firing people, and maintaining a constant level of positivity when faced with huge challenges and doubting staff.

The role of a great leader is to paint a picture for those in the organisation and make sure it’s communicated throughout, argued Young. Sometimes charities can get bogged down in the detail of what they’re working on and lose sight of the driving force behind their organisation. His notion was that Chief Executives see the organisation clearest in the first 12 months, so that insight needs to be utilised quickly before the individual becomes fully absorbed into the organisation.

Both Young and Cass CCE CEO Denise Fellows talked about the importance of leaders empowering the people around them; from management teams and trustee board to nurturing the talent of individuals. But amongst so many different ideas, the prominent theme for me was the idea of harnessing passion.

Young reminded the audience that it’s easy to forget that in the charity sector there is a huge bonus of having staff, volunteers and donors that do really care about the work. Sometimes it is tricky to control this passion, particularly in big organisations, as this energy and zeal can lead you to the wrong places. But it can also be hugely valuable too. Although he was talking about it in terms of the success of the charity’s management team and leaders, this can equally be applied to charity communications too.

That passion can be harnessed at a number of points, by listening to and engaging stakeholders to develop that all important vision and reason for being central to all marketing and communications. Also in delivering that message, as perception of brand is influenced both by explicit marketing and more implicit sources like how employees, volunteers and end users talk about the charity. Charity brands have a unique feel that makes them quite distinct from corporate or government organisations. Fostering and channeling that passion is a huge asset in helping achieve their communications goals.