Since the inaugural Small Charity CEO Support Network event (must find a catchier name for this – suggestions welcome!), I’ve been considering the feedback of those who joined us, and researching peer support and peer support networks. I’m a firm advocate of the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid), and everything suggests this network should be simply that – a peer support network.

It quickly became clear from contributions, networking and feedback that what leaders of small charities want and need from this group is the chance to share problems and challenges confidentially, with those in the same boat; to explore potential solutions and develop their knowledge; to get support. As soon as we understand that we are not alone, the load (and the isolation that can come from being at the top of a small organisation) lightens considerably.

There are some superb services out there providing lifelines for CEOs who need practical and legal support – such as ACEVO’s CEOs in Crisis service. However, I (and many of you) know from painful experience, that prevention is better than cure. Those who have faced similar challenges and feelings can be better placed to offer the kind of support that prevents crisis. It is critical that the sector galvanizes to support this group of passionate and committed professionals and their charities, to avoid crisis and burnout, and the toll that takes on mental and physical health.

Preventing burnout and preserving strong mental health in this valuable group of sector leaders requires more than practical approaches. Peer support offers benefits that are the fundamentals for effectiveness and strong performance.

As peer support develops as a practice, research is increasingly finding that sharing challenges with peers who have lived experience of the same issues increases knowledge, confidence and effectiveness, and decreases anxiety, isolation, depression and suicidal ideation. Peer support provides hope, helps people make sense of their situations, find meaning in their lives, take control over their destinies, develop their knowledge-base and manage their challenges.

The power of social networks has become increasingly apparent over recent years. I believe passionately that a national peer support network of small charity CEOs can not only improve the mental health and effectiveness of leaders in our wonderful, innovative and highly professional sector, but also thereby improve the efficiency of our hundreds of thousands of small charities. I believe passionately that structured support is needed for small charity CEOs. This means support for charities and ultimately better services for our beneficiaries – a goal we should all aspire to.

Since its launch, there has been a phenomenal amount of interest in the network from individuals, groups and organisations; this suggests there is an appetite for change in the sector. The CEO network is an influential group of innovative and skilled leaders, committed to peer support, and that’s a step towards change for the better.

So, if you’re a small charity CEO and you’re wondering about whether to join the network, please don’t hesitate. It is full of fellow small charity experts who can help you solve your work challenges! It is full of people who are tackling the same issues as you and probably feeling the same way too. It is full of people ready to support you, and that means support for your charity, your beneficiaries, volunteers, staff. Some of you have already suggested topics for discussion, such as managing workload, when to outsource, finding a mentor and many more (we will be exploring your ideas for future sessions during the event!).

The group is restricted to charity CEOs, Directors and Leaders – whether a registered charity or informal voluntary organisation, whatever the legal structure – you are welcome. We will observe Chatham House rules – you can speak freely and be heard. At each monthly meeting, someone from the network will present a problem, challenge, solution or simply their thoughts on a topic, and the group will then do their magic! There will be plenty of networking time too.

I look forward to seeing you in October, and setting out on this journey with you!

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