News & Insights

POSTED Tuesday 11-05-21

What is it like to be a chair on a board of a charity?

My experiences, insights, and successes as a chair on a charity board for the brilliant organisation SAY Women.


My name is Debbie Shields and I am part of the senior team at Aspen People. You might think that my status in the private sector means I have limited contact with the third sector, but in actuality, my time as Chair for the board for SAY Women proves that these two sectors can and do work well together. And although it has been a lot of work to take on, it’s been incredibly rewarding.


I choose to be part of the board with SAY Women because I have a strong connection with their work and a real admiration for their gender-based approach to sexual abuse and homelessness. They actually started out as a client of mine, and as I learned more, the more I wanted to be involved in supporting what they do. They’re an amazing cause, helping young women and survivors of childhood sexual abuse find new accommodation, as well as helping them with the skills they need to live independently. I stand with them – politically, emotionally, and in solidarity against a world that too often disbelieves them, or turns a blind eye. It was for these reasons that I am willing to invest a lot of my time and skills, and it is really this crucial connection that is needed to be a Chair on a board of any charity.


Importantly, the board’s role is strictly strategic; the charity’s operations are rightfully left to the team at SAY Women who have the training, skills, and qualifications to work with vulnerable young people. Of course, these operations are the foundation of what they do as a charity that provides accommodation and support. But the board is able to provide a different skill set: to support them strategically, encourage them to go public with their efforts and promote themselves, and in turn bolster their efforts. We also ensure that the staff at SAY Women are being listened to, and their well-being is given consideration. I feel this is a really important aspect of the board and one we all take very seriously.


As a strategy team, then, it is vital that the board has diversity of thought and ideas. We are always looking for new strategies that have worked for others, and for them to bring their experiences and insights to the table. It is easy to feel that a topic such as childhood sexual abuse should stay in the shadows, but with our efforts, we’ve seen the benefit of openly discussing it. We’ve strived to make sure it is not a topic that people overlook, dismiss, or put out of their minds, because it is the lived reality of so many women, and there is amazing support in place to help them. If we, as a board, can help inform SAY Women as best we can, with a diversity of ideas and opinions, we can develop successful strategies with them so that this support continues to be available.


Although the pandemic has disrupted our efforts, pre-lockdown we had a major success in organising SAY Women’s first-ever external fundraiser dinner! Coinciding with International Women’s Day, it was a huge success and a lot of fun. We put aside any hesitations about publicising the topic and the result was a significant amount of money raised. We hope to do more events like this one as lockdown eases.


Overall, being a chair is a lot of work, but massively rewarding. It’s all about capitalising on different skill sets to ensure the organisation you’re working with is running as effectively as possible. It’s also a great way to get involved in the third sector without the background or qualifications you would normally need, and you get so much out of it personally. I would highly recommend becoming involved, especially as our own fantastic board is looking for new members. It is such a worthwhile experience, and you could bring something new that we don’t already have. If you are interested in working with us and SAY Women, then please contact either myself ( or Pam Hunter, CEO of SAY Women ( for more information.

Thanks for reading!