10 things to know before becoming an interim charity manager

Written by Louise Beales
24/04/18

Charities continue to turn to interims for a fresh leadership perspective as they encounter funding pressures, undertake re-organisations or acquire talent to cover gaps whilst recruiting permanent staff.

Interims are proven executives that can be deployed on a short-term basis to support an organisation during a period of change, transition or crisis. Many seasoned charity professionals are exploring an interim career to try something different. If you’re considering the move, here are ten things to bear in mind:

1. Choosing your moment
Leaving full-time employment behind you can be a daunting prospect, particularly for those that have been in similar roles throughout their working life. Many interim candidates within the charity sector have enjoyed a successful not-for-profit career, but are looking for more control over their work/life balance.

However, for those individuals who have worked solely within the private sector, interim management in the third sector is an opportunity to try something different, and support a cause that they feel a connection with.

2. Prepare for problem-solving
The decision to become an interim can be driven by the realisation that leading change projects and problem solving are the parts of the job you most enjoy and want to keep doing.

Interim placements can vary – from fundraising and finance to digital transformation and marketing, but in any role you’ll need to be able to quickly identify the areas for change or improvement and lead on the transformation. You should have plenty of experience doing this, but working for a charity can pose its own challenges.

3. Know your stakeholders
An awareness of key stakeholders is a prerequisite of most leadership roles, but is particularly important as an interim within the third sector. When trying to bring about change, you can face resistance from the board, managers on the ground, but also the founder of the charity itself.

So-called ‘founder’s syndrome’ can lead to acrimonious relationships between senior staff, so be aware that you’ll need to keep all parties happy.

4. Adjusting to the interim mindset
Remember that as an interim, you are no longer an employee. Whatever the organisation you work for, they will turn to you as an expert and as an independent leader. Adjusting to this can be difficult for senior professionals who may be used to working across large teams to whom they could delegate.

Interims can be called on to make tough decisions which might not always be the most popular. This is particularly true within the charity sector where funding pressures are leading to efficiency measures and internal restructuring.

5. The balancing act
Mastering the balance of being an interim manager can take time. On the one hand, you need to leave a positive legacy – leveraging your experience and insight to make key decisions that will impact its long-term strategy.

However, you also need to keep the relationship between management teams and employees intact. You will be with the organisation for a short-time, but confidence in the senior leadership team needs to be maintained.

6. Get ready to ‘hit the ground running’
More often than not, interims are appointed at short notice. Whether a role needs to be filled after a sudden departure, or once a new project has the go-ahead, an interim expert can be called upon quite urgently.

The average length of interim placement in the charity sector is nine months, so you have a window of opportunity to deliver lasting change. Be prepared to get to grips with the organisation swiftly, and offer solutions as you go.

7. Ask the right questions
The interim recruitment process can run quickly, especially if you are shortlisted for a role. You’ll usually have little time between initial brief, interview and placement, so you’ll need to use whatever time is available to research the role and organisation fully.

Make sure that the role is right for you. Be aware that the interim role and the key tasks and deliverables might actually be quite different from the job description for the permanent role. Ask all the relevant questions and know exactly what the client’s expectations are right from the start.

8. Reputation is everything
The third sector is highly interconnected, so reputations count. Often an evidence-based approach is used to recruit interims and a great recommendation can propel you into further positions in the same market. Carefully maintain your track record and, where possible ask for a reference when your assignment comes to an end.

Tailor your CV to the role, clearly stating your relevant experience and achievements. Ensure that you give sufficient detail for your more recent roles to give confidence to the client that you have all the necessary skills to add value and deliver.

9. Pay attention to your earnings
Interim daily rates can be high compared to your permanent colleagues. However, the premium reflects the sometimes last-minute and sporadic nature of the work, but also the loss of benefits you would have enjoyed as a full-time employee.

The career also brings with it new tax considerations. Interims typically work through their own private limited company, but IR35 changes have now been introduced in the public sector, so pay close attention to HMRC announcements.

10. Make the most of ‘rest periods’
Interim work can be inconsistent. This transition from permanent roles to project-based work can be difficult to get used to at first. Be prepared, both mentally and financially that securing back-to-back assignments without break is quite unusual.

Many of the interim mangers we work with embrace the lifestyle change as having regular breaks can give you time to build up your network, go travelling, undertake personal development courses, spend time on home projects or enjoy some downtime with family.

Louise Beales is head of the charities practice at Odgers Interim



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