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News & Views from Firm Beliefs

We will be posting articles on a regular basis - so check back regularily for updates.

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Charity mergers and trustees - a summer of love and despair

Author: Sara Dixon
Posted: 31st of October, 2011

Having spent the summer and early autumn dealing with charity mergers, law firm
mergers, joint ventures between profits and not for profits - in fact, a summer
spent bringing perfect strangers together with a view to a better future... - we at Firm
Beliefs cannot but ponder on the role that charity trustees play in this brave
new world of new relationships.

That role varies tremendously.  That is the problem. 

So do attitudes.  Also the problem.   

We are finding that there are rarely cases where both (or more) sets of trustees clearly understand their own role and attitudes, let alone the others' role,  and the process as a whole is often delayed by a lack of clarity around the role and the attitudes of one or more of the trustee boards.

Regardless of charity sector (dogs, carers, international aid), regardless of size (small charity where trustees ARE the day to day workers;  large international charity where trustees rarely meet the employees), regardless of experience of trustees (from the trustee who set up the charity many years ago to the seemingly ubiquitous ‘I donated stacks of cash to this charity and I am a hedge fund manager/banker/business owner...') - there are two clear issues that any merger team must be clear about up front:

1.      What role has the board of X charity played so far in its development? 

2.      What attitude has the board of X charity taken insofar as leading the charity forward thus far?

Because unless these are clear up front, both within X charity itself AND understood by the merging organisation, chaos, delay, uncertainty and even, sadly, failed merger will ensue.

Why the previous role is important:

Has the role hitherto included working with the staff? Charity X Board may or may not have developed a close working relationship with the management/administrative team of Charity X before the merger process.  Certainly they will need to do in the feasibility
process.  Add to this Charity Y who may also be trying to forge a similar working relationship in whether deciding whether to merge, and you have at least 4 groups who have never worked together before, trying to do so. 

Add into this the new Merger Steering Group once things get going and you add yet another group of folk into the mix - reps from the Trustee Board of X and of Y; plus key staff from the Exec teams of X and Y.  Whilst still trying to report back to the Boards of X and Y.  With all of the cultural and managerial and operational differences in language and approach that such mergers bring. 

So an understanding of what role each has
played hitherto is helpful in trying to decide the roles going forward and putting
into place systems and support mechanisms to make sure that all the different
groups work effectively together.

Why previous attitudes are important:

In particular, attitude to change.  For many trustees, their approach to change
has been something tested, or not, in their ‘day jobs'.  Even if they have gone through tremendous changes in their working lives, they may or may not have been ultimately
responsible for delivering on that change.  This may have affected the attitude that the
trustee board as a whole has shown in terms of change for the charity for which
they are ultimately responsible - have they been change averse?  Have they been change aware? 

And for many, regardless of experience in their own working lives, that may not translate into attitude to change as they merge their charity with another.  I think we have all come across the ‘In my commercial role, I have been merged with/lost my job/managed a merger numerous times and this merger for this charity is no different'.  Sadly at the moment,
that attitude prevails all too often.  No merger is ever the same as another - so attitude to change needs to show an element of humility as well as adaptability to the requirements of this particular change.

There are of course many other issues which affect trustees and their role and attitude during a merger - and many trustee boards we have worked with have shown exemplary approaches to both their role and their attitude.  Indeed, the fact that trustees appoint interim independent chairs of merger steering groups to ensure that the merger, not just the interests of the charities, stay at the forefront of the process, regardless of past experience, is to be commended. 

So, trustees need to be clear, up front, about the role they have played hitherto, the attitudes they have shown towards change hitherto - that way they can enquire similarly about the other trustee board/s in the merger.  Once the differences/similarities are ironed
out, the merger process proper can begin.  The courtship that includes a full and frank assessment of one's self, as well as the other, does tend to lead to better outcomes after all.  Even if it is, 'no thanks'.  Better know that sooner rather than later.

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We wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Author: Sara Dixon
Posted: 22nd of December, 2016

Our office will be closed from 5pm on Friday 23rd December 2016 until Wednesday 4th January 2017.  We hope that all our clients and contacts and friends of the business will have a good rest, a happy time, and renewed energy for 2017. And thank you very much for your support for our business over the past year.

Sara and Sally

What should we drop? What should we keep?

Author: Sara Dixon
Posted: 24th of May, 2016

Life and business has dramatically changed for many of us over the past decade. As we lead into celebrating a decade of Firm Elite dinners, guests will share what has worked for them, what hasn't and what will be the skills, techniques and attitudes of the future.

Join Firm Eliters for dinner on Thursday 16th July to share and learn from others.   We look forward to seeing you!

Contact to find out more.


We're all set for our next Firm Elite dinner - with George Bull

Author: Sara Dixon
Posted: 13th of April, 2016

Baker, Beekeeper, Media Commentator, Photographer, Purveyor of his Life Experiences... and senior tax partner at a major accounting firm, join George as he leads the conversation about 'My Career as a Verb!'.

At the beginning of our working life, we see it as a linear path, each step building on the one before, leading to a point roughly appreciable at the beginning.  The reality, We career from one path to another.  Career becomes a verb! Sometimes leading to the last place we ever expected. And yet we still deem that place as a success.

As usual, a select band of dinner guests come together for an evening of new folk to be met, new topics to be discussed, new ideas to be exchanged and a thoroughly relaxing evening.  Tuesday 19th April 2016.

Seeking Interview Board members

Author: Sara Dixon
Posted: 16th of February, 2016

Would you be interested in sitting on the Interview Board which interviews those who want to take part in our Skills Development programmes?

We provide two types of programme:

(1) delivered in-house for organisations,  arranged by organisations for those who wish to keep up to speed withe latest thinking, skills and techniques for business and management skills.

(2) delivered to individuals who wish to keep up to speed with the latest thinking, skills and techniques outside the arrangements made by their organisations. 

It is the second type for which we seek Board Interviewers. We take on a limited number of individuals each year.  We always have more on the waiting list. This year, we are doubling the numbers we accept, to 20 people.

The Board Interviewers help us to make the final decision as to whether the individual is 'up to the task ahead' in participating in the programme and then helps us decide on who has priority.

Board members need to:

(1) be an advocate for constant business and management development, especially when in leadership positions,

(2) demonstrate that by taking part themselves in structured learning to support on the job learning,  and encouraging their teams to do so,

(3) have undertaken themselves learning 'in addition to the demands of the day job' so that they can assess whether the individual is up to the task of putting their own time and energy into the experience. It doesn't matter whether the learning has been business, how to fix a car, or a new language!  The point is to understand the need to be motivated enough to keep learning something new when the day job has ended yet there is more to be done...

(4) come from any sector. We have board members from sectors other than legal services, charity or social enterprise, as well as those ones.  The sector does not matter.

You can see the types of programme that individuals follow here:

For those in the legal services sector/social enterprise sector

For those in the charity sector/social enterprise sector

If you are interested in  finding out more about joining the happy band of Board Interviewers, contact Sara.  Full training will be given.  Much wine and chocolates provided in appreciation of contribution!


The road less travelled

Author: Sara Dixon
Posted: 15th of February, 2016

Our excellent dinner, with Sarah Frost as our conversation leader, led to a few requests for the poem and the sayings that she used. Here they are:

"Sometimes the right path is not the easiest one."  Pocahontas

"It is a rough road that leads to the heights of greatness." Seneca

"Do not go where thepath may lead. Go inestead where there is no path and leave a trail." Ralph Waldo Emerson

"The obstacle is the path."  Zen proverb

"Paths are made by walking."  Franz Kafka

"True morality consists not in following the beaten track but in finding the true path for ourselves and fearlessly following it."  Mahatma Gandhi

"A wise man ought always to follow the paths beaten by great men, and to imitate those who hve been supreme, so that if his ability does not equal theirs, at least it will savour of it."  Machiavelli

"Of all the paths a  man could strike into, there is, at any given moment, a best path...  A thing which, here and now, it were of all things wisest for him to do.  To find this path, and walk in it, is the one thing needful for him."  Thomas Carlyle

"A black cat crossing your path signifies that the animal is going somewhere."  Groucho Marx


The Road Not Taken - by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And still be one traveller, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth:

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear:

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves  no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads onto way

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,

I took the one less travelled by,

And that has made all the difference.