Claire Ritchie on the challenges she has faced and the support she has been given as a new chief operating officer in the voluntary sector
Coming from a career in an insurance company and now working as the chief operations officer of Edinburgh-based charity The Eric Liddell Community, I have found myself reflecting recently about the journey my career has taken and whether I made the right decision when I made the leap into the charity sector.
In my previous working life, I had gained a professional qualification, progressed steadily through the organisation and been given increasingly more senior and challenging roles. I had good contacts and relationships, was rewarded well and was on the path that I had envisaged many moons before.
But life was a bit different as a 40+ year old compared to my 22-year-old graduate self. I had a husband, two children and had just lost my dad. My work-life balance was poor and I felt that I was on a hamster wheel – working really hard but not getting anywhere and I felt I was losing my sense of purpose. The fact that this feeling coincided with losing my dad was no coincidence. He had always instilled in us the importance of giving back to your community, family and a strong work ethic. I was floundering.
What happened next is a longer story – an inspirational friend, research, volunteering, luck... but that is for another day. So here I am, leading the operations side of the Eric Liddell Community… is it working out for me?
Not every day! There are challenges. I have new relationships to navigate. I don’t have 20 years of history with colleagues and therefore it takes time to build trust and a common understanding. I find language a barrier at times – I’ve been in meetings and felt totally out of my depth. I wear many more hats in my current role – I don’t have a HR department, IT team or marketing team. At times, I have to wear all of these hats which means incredible variability in my day but it can also be frustrating.
But the upsides are vast. Colleagues across organisations are incredibly generous with their time and sharing their experience. There is a wide recognition that it can be difficult, challenging, even lonely running a charity and as a result my counterparts are incredibly generous sharing what has worked well for them. They are open about their own challenges creating a very supportive environment.
I love the variability of what I do. I’m a problem solver at heart and at times my role just involves making the pieces of the complicated puzzle fit so that we can have the most positive impact we can.
We make a difference. Every day. It’s hugely motivating to understand and feel the difference to people's lives as a result of the work we do.
Last week my children were off on midterm and my husband brought them into the ELC to have lunch with me… it was “insane” by the way, to quote a nine-year-old. We had lunch, I showed them around the rooms we rent to the local community, and the day centre where people living with dementia visit us for lunch and activities. I was so proud, not of where I worked, but in the work my colleagues do every day. My children were inspired and this is a journey that I’m very glad I’m on.
Claire Ritchie is chief operating officer at The Eric Liddell Community.