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NEWS > Board Member Profiles > Board Member Profile – Micheál Sheridan

Board Member Profile – Micheál Sheridan

We chatted (virtually) with Cii board member and Mercy Hospital Foundation CEO Micheál Sheridan about how Trustees are reacting to the pandemic, the challenges faced by the sector


We chatted (virtually) with Cii board member and Mercy Hospital Foundation CEO Micheál Sheridan about how Trustees are reacting to the pandemic, the challenges faced by the sector, and why, recently, he’s dusted off his bike. 



Being CEO of the Mercy University Hospital Foundation must keep you busy. What initially prompted you to take on the extra responsibility of being a Charity Trustee?  

It certainly does! We have a small team in the Foundation but a very close team which enables us to push ourselves to be successful. The past few months have been very challenging for everyone. Our team has, like others, had to adapt quickly to new ways of working, including remote working.   

I have been working in the not-for-profit sector in Ireland for twenty-three years and I have seen the impact that Trustees can have on an organisation. Many of us are aware of the negative impact that a poorly performing board or poorly selected Trustees can have on an organisation and its people. I have also recently completed my MSc. in Business and Leadership at UCD Smurfit, and so I wanted to join the board of Cii so that I could play my part and share my knowledge. I hope that I can help my fellow Trustees, our CEO Liz and the executive team to be successful and in turn that Cii will be successful. I am passionate about the not-for-profit sector and the role we all play for society. I want to do what I can to help Cii to achieve great things for our members and for society and I believe that we are certainly moving in that direction. 

You have a lot of experience as both a fundraiser and a CEO. What skills does this help you bring to the table as a Trustee?  

I hope that it gives me insight into what it’s like to be in both camps. If you take the current situation that we find ourselves in, there is huge pressure on CEOs in the sector to ensure the long-term sustainability and viability of their organisations. A lot of the focus therefore is on the finances of the organisation. In many cases this results in additional pressure being placed on Heads of Fundraising and their Fundraising teams not only to sustain existing income levels but to identify new sources of income in order to make up the funding gaps that are opening up. 

I spent fifteen years of my career working in fundraising roles and so I can empathise with our members whose roles are in this area. This is without doubt the most challenging time for fundraisers that I can remember. I now sit in a leadership role as CEO at MUH Foundation in Cork, so I appreciate and understand the role that CEOs and Trustees play 

As a Cii Trustee, I see how the COVID-19 pandemic has put additional pressures on our CEO Liz and the challenges that the entire team face in ensuring the financial sustainability of the organisation. I hope that I am playing my part in some small way in helping us to deliver for our members. 

Why, in your view, is the role of Charity Trustee so important?    

Of course, Trustees are crucial in terms of oversight, good governance and transparency. It is our role to ensure that the organisation is well run, financially viable and that we are achieving our purpose. However, it has to be more than that. I read recently in a White Paper, written by my good friend Betsy Chapin Taylor at Accordant in the US, that former Kennedy Center executive, Michael Kaiser, said:

So, while I know report to my board, I also often feel that I am reporting to a group of people who simply do not know as much as I do about the organization or are as responsible to it. I have to act as if they are my superiors without truly feeling it.

I think that as Trustees we need to be doing more than simply reading the quarterly CEO reports, attending meetings and turning up to the AGM. We need to get under the bonnet and understand the organisation, its structures and its DNA. I am not saying that we need to involve ourselves or interfere in the operational or day to day side of the organisation. That’s not our role. 

Our role is to take the view from the balcony and to support the executive team in guiding our organisations through the good times and the bad. We need to avoid a situation where we create the “Pygmalion Effect” that says, how we perceive people becomes how they are. 

So, if the executive teams in our organisations believe that Trustees and boards are low-value and low-impact, our resulting action or inaction makes them become just that, low value and low impact. By doing this, we set the stage for under-performance across the entire organisation. 

Despite the current crisis, Charity Trustees must still fulfil their duties. What challenges does the current crisis pose in terms of charity governance? How can boards rise to meet these challenges and how has the Cii board adapted?  

I think that everyone is aware of the challenges that the current situation is presenting for leaders and Trustees in the sector. Challenges linked to reduced income, increased demand and the new responsibilities that organisations have had to take on in relation to the protection of staff, volunteers and clients from the Coronavirus. 

One of the biggest challenges to Trustees and leaders is the uncertainty that continues to exist. As we see case numbers rising and local lockdowns being put in place we are all unsure of the future. There are lots of “known unknowns” out here and the role of Trustees is to help our leaders and our executive to think about how we respond to this uncertainty. Organisations should be asking themselves questions like: 

  • Are we maintaining our standards and values during this pandemic? 
  • Are our strategic aspirations the same now as they were 12 months ago? 
  • Have we built agility and flexibility into our organisation? Are we willing to invest time and resources to build agility and flexibility into our organisation? 
  • What capabilities can we now leverage if we return to a Phase 1 scenario to help us to maintain our levels of activity? 
  • What strategic assumptions did we make pre-Covid? Do they still stand and how do we deal with those assumptions that are now wrong? 

For Board Chairs and CEOs it’s essential that they to continue to engage regularly with board members. We should continue to hold board meetings using online video conferencing solutions. It’s also important to remember that many of our Trustees may be spending more time at home but still have a broad network that they can access. This is a great time for them to make their network more aware of the great work your organisation is doing. 

I would also encourage Trustees and leaders to join us virtually on the 7th & 8th October for the 2020 Charity Leadership Summit – Leadership in Uncertainty. There is an amazing line up of international speakers who will help them to make sure that their organisation’s strategic development is geared toward the new normal and help to prepare our organisation for a future that will be perpetually undergoing change. 

As a Trustee at Cii I think that the board has adapted well. We, like everyone else, have had to adjust quickly to using video conferencing platforms for our board and committee meetings. The transition has been made easier by the great leadership role Lisa Nicole has played in ensuring that everyone has a voice in these meetings. Many of us have experienced working with organisations where quieter Trustees have struggled to have their voices heard in what were ‘normal’ face to face board meetings so it has been more important than ever to ensure that everyone has an equal voice on video conferencing platforms. 

While the charity sector rallied incredibly well in the face of the COVID-19 crisis there is obviously a long way to go. What are the biggest challenges facing the sector and how can it be best equipped to succeed?  

There’s no doubt about it, our world has changed as have our lives in so many ways, personally, professionally, socially, economically. Our lives have been dominated by COVID-19. We have lost loved ones, we have missed seeing loved ones and we have done everything possible to protect our loved ones. 

Unfortunately, COVID-19 is something that we are going to have to learn to live alongside for many months to come and so many of the changes that we have experienced will be with us in the longer term. This change in our lives has been significant and we were unprepared for its scale and its impact. So, the question we must ask ourselves as leaders in our sector is how do we move forward? How do we help those around us to continue to function both personally and professionally during this continued uncertainty?  There has been a change on a monumental scale so as we move forward we must ask ourselves: 

  • Are we still relevant and is our strategy still fit for purpose? 
  • What are our highest priorities? How have they changed since the beginning of the year? 
  • What are our biggest challenges and risks and how can we mitigate those risks? 
  • What positive changes or innovations did we make that can help us to move forward? 
  • What could we have done better/what mistakes did we make and have we learned from them? 
  • How are our fundraisers managing relationships now and are they? Would some of our more isolated loyal donors welcome some human contact by phone? 

When you’re not at work or in board meetings what do you like to do in your spare time?  

I am a dad to four boys aged 15, 13, 10 and 4 so when I am not in work they find ways for me to spend my time. My ten-year-old plays hurling locally so I am regularly spotted in our back garden with a hurley and a sliotar. Our 4-year-old is starting school and as hurling is popular in our area he has recently started to join in. I’m involved in our local soccer club where two of my sons play and I coach our Under 11’s. I also look after our ‘Football For All’ programme at the club for children and young people who don’t have access to mainstream clubs for various reasons. 

The one good thing to come out of COVID-19 has been a renewed interest in cycling. I dusted off my bike after two years and joined a local cycling group. We head off mid-week and on Sunday mornings and the great thing is that we are all dads so it’s a great opportunity to relax, have a chat and a laugh and get fit. We won't be winning the Tour de France but we are certainly improving our physical and mental health and that’s the main thing! 

Thanks so much for your time Micheál!

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