More than one million trustees, supporting almost 200,000 charities, help to make the UK the eighth most charitable nation in the world. With Trustees’ Week (12-16 November 2018) upon us, Sarah Case, director at advisory firm MHA Broomfield Alexander, offers her experience on what makes a good trustee and how individuals, as well as charities, can benefit from the experience.
Charities can often find it difficult to recruit trustees, especially if they are on the hunt for experienced business people with a specific skillset. In Wales, charities have historically struggled to plug the skills gap. As a firm, we work with a lot of charities and it feels like the most asked question is; “do you know anybody that would like to be a trustee?”
It’s important to recognise that, as a trustee, it isn’t always enough to have your heart in the right place. While passion is a must, trustees need to be able to bring more to the table. There are a whole host of things that make a good trustee. Many, for example, will have been recruited for their specific skillset, like finance or marketing for example, but a good trustee also brings with them other life and business skills – such as communication, negotiation, leadership – as well as personal experience, which all helps in informing the decision-making process.
It’s crucial that trustees understand their responsibilities and keep up to date with guidance from the Charities Commission, as this can be an area where charities fall down. The basics really matter when you’re a trustee, even down to turning up on time and ensuring that the paperwork for meetings is properly read. Trustees, and the charities that they represent, benefit when people are positively engaged at meetings – asking questions and scrutinising the work of senior officers in an atmosphere of transparency. A difference of opinion isn’t necessarily a bad thing, so long as the challenge is constructive.
Good financial skills are useful and important. While you don’t have to be an accountant, experience of managing a business or a project with a fixed budget can be really valuable. If your financial skills aren’t a strong-point, it’s all the more important that you have confidence in the treasurer, and that he or she is giving enough detail when reporting on figures and can demonstrate a good job is being done. Paying attention to financial reports – both written and verbal – is key.
When we are asked to assist a charity with trustee recruitment , we almost always start with a skills audit, which looks at what skills are needed on the board of trustees and how many people are being sought. Charities should be specific with potential trustees about what the commitment involves, so they know exactly what they are taking on. For example, how many meetings will be held per month or whether there are any specific initiatives that their help will be needed with. It’s important to consider diversity, too. It’s sometimes unavoidable, but in general it isn’t healthy for a charity to have a board of trustees made up of entirely the same type of people. Having a range of people with diverse experiences around the table really enhances the quality of decisions that are made. Diversity of thought is key to a successful board.
After years of working with charities, we’ve seen trustees who have really made a difference – those who do more than just attend meetings and take an active interest in what’s going on. Being willing to go that extra mile can make the world of difference to a charity. It’s important, of course, that trustees recognise the boundary between their role and that of the charity’s management team, but getting involved where you can, and really understanding what is being required, adds a depth to the relationship that benefits both parties.
So what are the benefits of being a trustee? The stand-out positive should always be the sense of satisfaction that comes from giving something back and making a difference. Depending on the charity, this could mean helping adults or children living in poverty, improving the lives of sick or vulnerable people or tackling cruelty to humans or animals.
However, people who have some of the skills that charities are looking for shouldn’t just consider these opportunities for altruistic reasons. If you are passionate about the cause and you have the time, then working as a trustee can also help to broaden your horizons. Being a trustee means you’re part of a wider team and can bring you into contact with other like-minded people, who may end up being helpful to you in a professional capacity.
What’s more, if your chosen charity is successful under your watch, the experience can not only be rewarding, but can also look pretty good on the CV. So, why not use this year’s Trustee Week as an opportunity to look into charities in your area and see whether there could be a mutually beneficial relationship waiting on your doorstep.
More information on Trustees’ Week can be found here: http://trusteesweek.org/
This appeared as an article in the business pages of the Western Mail on 14 November 2018.Tags: Trustees Week