Secret CEO: “Everyone assumes I’ll always know the answer”

A CEO of a small to medium sized charity talks about what it’s like being both the chief executive and the fixer of things – whatever it may be.
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Ah, what is it like to be the Fixer of Things (AKA a small – medium-sized charity chief executive). Well, to my peers and friends, despite my protestations, it’s glamorous. It’s about being in control of your own time, meeting people that want to help our charity and it’s knowing you’ve done good stuff and made a difference. It’s hard work but with a halo.

Most people secretly assume I earn a small fortune and do very little actual hard work!

The reality is so very different. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t have serious worries about keeping grants coming in, satisfying funders, meeting the needs of our beneficiaries and importantly, keeping my team in their jobs whilst ensuring they’re happy enough to stay, despite the massive workload.

Every day is a juggle. It IS fun and it IS an amazing gift to be a charity chief executive, but it’s also incredibly demanding. With a small team of just seven and me as the only full-time employee, I end up doing all sorts of things that I’d never imagined I would and that I have absolutely no experience in!

You might have heard this before: ’Oh wow. You’re a chief exec of a Charity. That must be great fun. And, you’ll be earning stacks’.

Oh, how I laugh! Sometimes.

Somehow, I’ve ended up being a Fixer of Things. Right now, I've got 200 water bottles and three bags of bunting underneath my desk, as well as end of year financial reports to sign off, grant funders to support and strategy to deliver. I need to secure around £150k of funding to keep things moving, I’m the only fundraiser and strategy maker and I know my team are overstretched. I also offered to pick up the office coffee and milk on my way into work this morning.

On one hand, I’m juggling managing the finances, grant income, staffing and day to day running of a charity. On the other hand, I took a phone call at the weekend because someone had blocked the access to a storage container and items were having to be passed through a window to the people that needed them. And, the team were looking to me to be the Fixer of Things. To magically, and without being present, have a solution for opening a locked box that I was nowhere near. It’s a pickle!

I don’t want to let anyone down, but everyone assumes I’ll always know the answer.

Day to day I seem to end up fixing a lot of things. The printer has broken and no one can fix it. The boiler isn’t working in winter and the office has ice on the inside of the windows. Our team has received its one millionth really random question from a funder and no one knows the answer. I could go on.

I know that I should be able to delegate these things. However, my team are completely stacked up with work. We operate predominantly on grant funding and so our finances are restricted to essential project delivery. I don’t have the funds to employ any more support. And so, instead, I soak up those waifs and strays of work that fall outside of everyone else’s job description. Sometimes I do a great job of fixing things. Sometimes I don’t!

And in the back of my mind, I’m usually thinking about how I’m going to fit in some actual proper work when I’ve finished all these bits which just can’t be left unsupported.

I love my job. It’s rewarding and magical. Being able to see a problem and offer solutions is an amazing feeling. But it’s also a huge daily burden. I get random weekend phone calls from our delivery teams because I’m the only one on call. I don’t have a team that’s big enough to respond all the time. And, I want this to work. Not just to work, but to be amazing.

That means being the one to report the broken office toilets, getting spare office keys cut, dropping off bits and bobs out of hours that we’ve all overlooked and whipping up 150 metres of recycled bunting because I want an event to look appealing but we don’t have the funds to justify buying new.

And, that’s when I roll my sleeves up and get stuck in. Because without a Fixer of Things, my world doesn’t work properly and things start to crumble. It’s a good job I blooming love this job!

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