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Who Controls?

I work with Boards and the CEOs of many large charities and NGOs and I often come across this dilemma between Trustees and CEOs. I was once asked in Board meeting of a large NGO by a Trustee that sometimes, the Board is too controlling and sometimes it is the CEO – how can we find a balance?


I feel this is a wrong question and therefore any answer to this question will be a wrong one.

At Board and Executive level, the issue of “Control” should be third in line and should be discussed in the context of two greater issues. Objectives and Risks.


Charities are charities and Trustees become trustees because of the stated “Objectives” of the charity / NGO they belong to – the CEO is appointed to help the Trustees achieve these corporate objectives.


The utmost priority has to be to achieve the “Objectives” – any activity that harms this, should be considered a “Risk” to the charity. Once the “Objectives” and the “Risks” are clear, it should THEN be about “Control” – for example how are the risks controlled.


If the “Controls” requires CEO to take the lead, then be it and if it requires the Trustees to take a lead then be it. As long as the “Controls” reduce the “risks” and helps to achieve the “Objectives”.

Outside the above context, the issue of “Control” between Trustees and CEOs becomes an issue of mistrust or ego and therefore will never result in a compromise and positive outcome.


So how do we find the balance?

In the above battle and contrary to what many think, I often find the CEOs on the wrong side. The Trustees were involved in setting up many of the large charities and work voluntarily, having made many sacrifices. Naturally they have “control”. The CEOs often complain that Trustees do not give them control –


The question that is often ignored by the CEOs is “What will the CEO give in return to the Trustees for that control?” The solution to all issues in my experience hides in how “effective, compelling and professional” the answer is.


By Nasir Rafiq BA ACA – Governance Expert

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