My Charity Career – Liz Hughes

Copy of Charity ChatsMonthly career interview with professionals in the not-for-profit sector

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What is your current role and how long have you been working in it?

I was appointed as CEO of Charities Institute Ireland (Cii) in April 2019. Cii’s purpose is to demonstrate the impact of the sector and by doing so increasing trust in the charity sector. As an organisation, we want to highlight the positive role which charities play in Ireland’s society, provide leadership and guidance on key issues for charities and develop a greater appreciation of charitable engagement in its many guises.

How did you get to where you are today and what influenced your decision to work in your chosen field?

I have worked in a variety of sectors and roles in the last twenty or so years. I started my career in technology in the late 1990’s and it was there that I developed a particular interest in marketing and business development. I spent almost half of my career with the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and it was with ACCA that I had the opportunity to development my leadership skills as head of the organisation in Ireland and then more recently in some major European markets. As I pass the halfway mark of my career, I felt I needed a new challenge and a new sector. The charity sector always appealed to me; however, I never had a chance to devote any significant time to an individual charity. I hope in this role; I can have a positive impact on the broader sector by bringing my leadership and stakeholder management experience to Cii while having the chance to learn about a new sector and one which is undergoing unprecedented change.

What do you love/enjoy most about your job?

The role of CEO by its nature is diverse and this appeals to me on a number of different levels, one day I’m developing strategy, the next I’m chairing a CEO Forum and today, I’m writing this profile piece. The variety of opportunities and challenges that I encounter on an almost daily basis is motivating, I feel I am in constant learning and appreciation mode. I thought I was reasonably well informed about the charity sector and yet I learn something new every day. I really enjoy the opportunity to meet members across the country, while each member is unique, there are common issues and these are the areas where I believe Cii can make a real difference.

And what are the most challenging parts of your job?

For someone who is new to the sector, I have much to learn, understand and appreciate. My biggest challenge will be to prioritise activity that will have the most significant impact for our members and the broader sector. While much has been achieved in recent years, especially with the introduction of the Regulator who has given greater impetus to professionalising the sector, there remains a long to do list. Issues like reducing the burden of administration on the sector, recognition and understanding of the difference between a professional working in the sector and a volunteer and perhaps getting the public to appreciate the scale of essential health, education and social services delivered to society by the many amazing Irish charities.

How do you relax?

Exercise is a brilliant way to relax and to stay reasonably fit too. I play tennis at least once a week and love heading out to Dun Laoghaire to walk the pier (east and west usually not together!) I joined a choir a few years ago and while I don’t know whether it is very relaxing, it’s certainly the perfect way to switch off from the day job. My preferred method of relaxation is catching up with friends and family over dinner but I have to squeeze in the tennis and walking to justify dinner and drinks!

What skills and personality traits do you think are essential for a job like yours?

Taking ownership and responsibility for your role and actions is essential, if I say I’ll do something, I will or else explain why it may not be possible. Linked to that is the importance of clear communications, more listening than talking and avoiding jargon as much as possible. Positivity and resilience are also important in any leadership position and possibly even more so in the charity sector.

What’s your advice to anyone who wants to pursue a career in the same field?

Talk to others in a similar role and find out what are the positives and negatives of the role. Do your research, each organisation is different, one of the most important factors to consider is organisational culture, ask yourself, will you fit in, make a difference and be happy?  I am an extrovert and get my energy from others and that’s important in this role given the significant level of stakeholder engagement.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

Be yourself because it’s exhausting and ultimately futile trying to be someone else!

What has been the best moment of your career so far?

Being appointed as Head of ACCA Ireland at a relatively young age and to be one of the first women in Ireland to hold a leadership position in the professional accountancy sector in Ireland has certainly been a highlight and of course being appointed CEO of Cii.

What are your career aspirations?

To make a positive contribution to society in whatever it is I do, to enhance and consolidate Cii’s position as a leading voice for the charity sector and to keep learning.

Charities Institute Ireland are very much looking forward to welcoming Dan Pallotta back to Dublin’s Mansion House on 12 November for Bolder Board. This day long leadership training session will empower attendees to create a future based on what’s possible, instead of a predictable future, based on the past.  It is not traditional training on governance and finance. It is training that radically disrupts traditional ways of thinking. It is designed to teach charity trustees, CEOs, senior management teams, CSR professionals and major donors how to work together to create possibilities for impact. Book your ticket here: https://www.charitiesinstituteireland.ie/bolder-board-training#button

If you’re a professional who works in the not-for-profit sector and you’re interested in taking part in the ‘My Charity Career’ interview series, please get in touch by emailing to [email protected].  We’d love to hear from you!