Burnout fears raised by charity chairs

Chairs of trustee boards are facing burnout due to increasing financial pressures and rising demand for services amid the Covid-19 pandemic, a survey has revealed.

According to the Association of Chairs, which carried out the survey, “the pressure of taking tough decisions in tough circumstances was becoming too much” for many chairs.

“Some talked about their concerns of dealing with stress and their fears about burnout,” the Association added.

One chair said: “Everyone is voluntary and, quite frankly, Covid has left us exhausted.”

Another said: “Agreeing levels of support, joint planning and watching for burnout have been priorities.”

The Association received more than 700 responses from chairs. The largest concerns cited were found that financial challenges (40%) and the impact of Covid-19 (30%).

“Other chairs mentioned how the crisis had increased demand for support,” added the Association.

“For example, one chair said that the pandemic had led to increased cases of violence against women and girls and therefore the need for their charity’s support.”

Another said there had been a “massive increase” in demand for their services.

During the health crisis chairs have been spending more time in their unpaid charity trustee roles, often at the expense of their paid jobs outside of the charity.

Among chairs surveyed, 62% had spent four or more days a month in their chairing role during the pandemic, compared to 43% before. In addition, 18% spent more than 11 days a month chairing their charity, compared to 10% prior to the crisis.

The most common reasons for spending more time were to support staff, in particular the chief executive, and attending meetings around funding and crisis management.

“Alarmingly, chairing had become a full-time job for some,” said the Association.

“I have always put in many hours. But establishing a Covid-safety plan staffing problems and recruitment have kept me working over 40 hours a week,” said one chair.

Another said: “I stepped down from my paid position to leave me more time.”

Among recommendations is for charities to invest in supporting their chair.

“We urge chief executives to signpost chairs to sources of support and where appropriate to create a budget for development or to access support,” said the Association.

“Organisations should not expect chairs to pay for that themselves. The survey also underlines the importance of building strong and effective chair-CEO relationships, and how this builds resilience and helps charities come through crisis.”

A survey by voluntary sector insurer Ecclesiastical earlier this year found that staff burnout amid the pandemic was “a significant threat” among charities.

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