What happens when a CEO does not feel supported by their Board?

5 minutes
Lisa Ross

By Lisa Ross

TPP Recruitment Non-Profit Salary, Rewards and Retention Survey gives a lens into how people are currently feeling in the charity sector and one stark finding to come out of this year’s 2023 survey is that “41% of senior staff do not feel supported by their Board.”

The Charity Governance Code clearly states that Boards have a key impact on whether a charity thrives. The Board and CEO dynamic is therefore vital to the success of a charity, and the 41% figure quoted above is alarmingly high. So, what are some of the factors that can lead to the disenchantment of the CEO? 

Overstepping boundaries

This is a real bug bear and can be a difficult balance to get right – the Board’s role is to have strategic oversight and the CEO’s is to implement and deliver on that strategy. It’s usually well-meaning but a Board which oversteps its boundaries and start to micromanage will lead to a CEO feeling their decision making is stifled. It can cause deep frustration – suggesting to them that the Board lacks confidence in their leadership, which then trickles down through the charity.


Poor communication between the CEO and the Board will lead to misunderstandings and can lead to mistrust. Poor communications are often just a difference in communication style but are sometimes a sign of a deeper issue. A failure to provide timely and relevant information when requested on both sides can contribute to this breakdown. Transparency with any critical decision making is equally important for mutual trust.


If the CEO and Board have differing visions on how best to move forward in respect of the charity’s goals, is likely to cause conflict, particularly where the CEO feels that they are not listened to by the Board. For the good of the charity there must be an alignment and agreement on the strategy underpinning how the charity achieves its vision and mission – or at least an understanding as to where key areas of difference may be. It is likely that a CEO in this position will feel unsupported and may – perhaps rightly – look to move on from their role.  

Lack of Resources

CEO’s can feel frustrated if they do not get investment approval for an area they’ve identified as being critical to meeting the charity’s objectives defined by the Board (eg new IT systems, staff recruitment or pay reviews). More difficult to resolve, but an issue that,combined with poor communication (see above), can be amplified.


External factors, such as pressures from donors/funders, unfavourable media coverage, or issues of public security will influence the Board’s relationship with the CEO and if poorly managed, can strain the relationship between both parties.  

So what can you do to ensure your CEO feels supported?

Start by following the steps in the Charity Governance Code (this section on leadership is particularly valuable). If you recognise any of the issues above, they will undoubtedly need to be addressed for the success of the charity. Here are some ways to bridge the gap and ensure your CEO feels supported by the Board.

  • Open and transparent communication
  • Regular feedback mechanisms (e.g. scheduled 1-1s between CEO and Chair)
  • Shared commitment to the charity’s mission 
  • Consider reviewing the composition and practices of the Board to ensure it can effectively fulfill its role in supporting the charity’s leadership. At TPP, we recommend conducting a regular skills gap analysis – use Reach Volunteering’s guide how to complete a skills audit to aid this.  

TPP partner with CEOs and Boards across the UK to find the best talent, which in turn ensuring the most effective and collaborative Boards.   

Please get in touch with Matt Adams, Emma Patmore or Lisa Ross on 0207 198 6060 executive@tpp.co.uk for an informal chat, we’d welcome the opportunity to talk through our approach, our track record and to learn more about how we might best partners with you to find the right talent for your Board or Senior Leadership team.



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