What does being the chairman of a charity have to do with administrative management?

Q: What does being the chairman of a charity have to do with administrative management?

A: Everything.

Adrian Hale – IAM fellow got in touch to speak about how his administrative management experience, has helped him during his career, including his role as chairman of the Trigeminal Neuralgia Association, UK.

During my working life. I have worked for national companies as a manager where administration was at the heart of the operation. Then, during a later period of self-employment, I was diagnosed with a severe facial neuropathic pain – trigeminal neuralgia. In seeking answers to help me cope with this condition, some four years ago then aged 67 I joined a registered charity called the Trigeminal Neuralgia Association UK. During my time as a member of this charity, I was slowly drawn into becoming a trustee and was subsequently elected as Chair following the resignation of the then Chair. I believe that the reason for my election was in part due to life experience plus my knowledge and experience of administrative management as well as, of course, being a sufferer. 

There are a number of differences between being an administrative manager and being the Chair of a small but national charity. The first is that all of us trustees are volunteers – i.e.. we don’t get paid but can claim for expenses. The second is that, unlike a business where there is a hierarchical structure , most small charities are run on very democratic lines. All registered charities are subject to the rules and regulations of the Charity Commission in which are laid out the responsibilities of trustees and includes the Chair who has no more power over decision-making than any of the other trustees. However, as in business, the Chair has overall responsibility for the running of the charity which in many ways is a business, and is accountable to its members, anyone from the general public who engages with the charity and of course the the Charity Commission. The Chair is also responsible for paid office staff and therefore has the usual responsibilities under employment law and must also ensure that the trustees are fulfilling their roles to enable the charity to function as it should. 

From what you have read so far, you may be under the impression that the Chair is really nothing more than a figurehead. Obviously I can only speak for myself but I suspect that what I’m about to say is the same for most Chairs. I choose to work for several hours every day (yes, including weekends) – partly because that’s my work ethic and partly because I know from personal experience just how devastating this condition is for sufferers and their families. I can say without fear of contradiction that you, like me, have at some time been in contact with our health services. I was no faced with having to learn very quickly (if I was going to be effective) all about trigeminal neuralgia, to understand and become closely involved with the NHS as well as liaising with senior medics and academics involved with neurology. Perhaps the very steep learning curve that I experienced as Chair was made a little easier because of my administrative management experience as there were scenarios occurring where I could apply the same logic and so not be stumped just because of the difference in occupation. Such scenarios occur almost daily where I am supposed to have all the answers or am the best person to respond or need to respond because I am the Chair. On the face of it this could appear daunting but so far my administrative abilities have allowed me to feel comfortable with these matters. Every day brings a new challenge and this helps to maintain my determination and gives me great job satisfaction having been able to help people in need or in progressing our charity’s mission statement. 

What is needed to be Chair or indeed an administrative manager? It certainly helps to be a person-person and have a willingness to be a team-player at the same time as maintaining a certain distance to enable management decisions to be made. It is decidedly useful having the ability to represent one’s activity in front of other people; let me give you some examples. I am expected to attend the occasional exhibition to which I have taken our charity’s stand and literature and interact knowledgeably with anyone who speaks to me. Alternatively, I have to attend various meetings as our charity’s representative and am expected to fully participate with the Chairs and CEOs of other organisations. On occasions I also attend conferences on neurological matters in an attempt to obtain information that will be of benefit to our members. In other words, I need to be proactive and not be fearful of interacting with people at a senior level if I am to help progress the needs of our charity and its members. Unfortunately this is not always as easy as it might seem when dealing with in particular a large and fragmented public body such as the NHS but it is often necessary to take every and any opportunity to state one’s case. This cannot be achieved unless one has been down the road of learning what administrative management is all about and learning how to apply what you have learned to whatever role or situation you are engaged in. 

Hopefully in some small way I have shown you how being an administrative manager in employment, easily translates to undertaking a voluntary role and, in so many other ways, can help one to live a fulfilling and meaningful life. To that end, I am grateful to the IAM for enabling me with the tools of my trade. 

You can find out more information about the Trigeminal Neuralgia Association, UK on their website

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