By Stephen Cross - posted on October 30, 2020

A love letter to charity founders

Building for legacy, not destiny

It's a hard transition. It can be even harder if the charity you established has been successful beyond your expectations.

You've seen it grow from your passion, and your insight, into a staff team, and multiple programs of work. You are now the CEO and still to work hard with the board to support them in understanding your vision of the charity's destiny as it continues to develop.


There's are unfortunate truths to be wrestled with though.

Charity law is clear that it's the trustees who are responsible for the charity and it is the charity's Governing Document that determines the limits of its activities. If current plans don't align with the Governing Document, the charity may be investigated.

Also, The title of 'founder' has no special legal rights or standing. As a salaried member of the team your are subject to the same risks of redundancy or role reassignment as any other member of staff.

Health over growth

With this in mind, I would like you to consider that it's time to think in terms of legacy, not destiny.

What would this look like if you, the founder, were to move on? How would the charity function without you? How much of your DNA is in the processes, the documents and the behaviours of the charity?

What if you were to devote your energies to ensuring the long-term resilience of the charity? Where do we look to build health, over growth? Time working on the charity, not in it?

'Now' is always the right time to ask these types of questions. The questions that remind us to build for legacy, not destiny.

Building for legacy

Building for legacy requires a different way of thinking about a charity. This can be an exciting and dynamic process that involves the whole team. It can bring fresh ideas and new innovations with it too. It can also be unsettling for those of us who have poured ourselves into building towards a destination.

In order to do this we need to process the past without it determining our future, we need to identify the DNA that's important to us and make sure that the formal and informal parts of the charity reflect these core, guiding values.

Once articulated, we need to check if our newly documented DNA is represented in the way we engage our beneficiaries, social media, our funders. Do appraisals and performance metrics reflect the DNA, are our Objects in step too, have the trustees been provided with what they need to be the true stewards of the charity moving forward?

If we're honest with ourselves, we know that it's this level of health and resilience that will ultimately guide our organisation to its destination. As founders we can only push so hard, for so long - we have our limits, we're finite.

At BPG we recognise the strengths of an Organisation Development approach for doing this. It allows for collaborative and resilient solutions. It acknowledges that we can't predict everything and that some chaotic factors are simply out of our control. It asserts that resilience can be built in light of uncertainties, not despite them. It understands journey.

Charities bridge a difficult gap between the orderly, statutory requirements of the Charity Commission, and the sometimes disorderly realities of the communities and beneficiaries we're trying to serve. This is where building for legacy shines. As the founder, this is where your energy and your DNA is now needed the most.

Next steps

If you want to explore this further, get in touch or book a call. No pressure, no hard sell, just a bit of space for you to consider some different options.

Image by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

Meet Stephen Cross

Stephen is a strategist and coach with some facilitation training thrown in for good measure, he guides people to explore the alternative futures. A maker by nature, Stephen's role as a partner at We Are BPG centres around building leadership within organisations that put purpose above profit.