Wednesday, 24 July 2013

7 Steps to becoming a charity trustee - by Leon Ward

Below is the latest blog from Leon Ward via Third Sector, detailing his advice to people looking to become a charity trustee. Leon has just graduated and is a trustee of Plan UK and Interact Worldwide. Follow him @LeonjWard.

1. Draw up a list of the organisations you want to work with and then package your offer so that you can clearly tell the organisation what you can do for them. Clearly identify your primary skills and areas of expertise and use that as your unique selling point. Trusteeship positions can be found on Third Sector’s jobs site and various LinkedIn groups like Young Charity Trustees.

2. Get to know the charity. Trusteeship is a two-way relationship and it’s important you feel like you are a good fit for the organisation and that the organisation is a good fit for you. Trustees are likely to drop out in their first year so make sure you are comfortable. Apply point three to test this.

3. Help/volunteer with them. A great way of seeing whether you can develop a relationship with a charity is to offer the organisation some pro bono work; meet with key senior managers and help them with an issue they are struggling with. You’ll soon realise whether point two is a barrier for you. This is particularly good bait for small organisations that will relish the opportunity to get some free guidance and expertise from you in whatever capacity you can offer it. If there is nothing available to suit your skills then why not considering volunteering some of your time to achieve the same goal?

4. Understand the good and the bad. To prevent your premature resignation you must get an understanding of what you’re signing up for. Ensure there is mutual understanding of your time commitment outside of full board meetings so that you don’t get swamped with extra work. Get a grip on the scale of the issues that the charity faces and have a look at its recent accounts so that you can fully understand your role there. This is specifically about how big the challenges will be and whether you have the time to support them.

5. Don’t forget small organisations. It’s often tempting to work with some of the large organisations out there but we mustn’t forget the array of smaller charities in the marketplace. As a first dip into trusteeship, small charities are a good place to start (have a look at the Small Charities Coalition); the challenges, intensity of relationships and style of operation will be very different to large organisations.

6. Network. This is generally an important skill but speak to the staff and other trustees of the charity, contact the chair and, if possible, visit a project and meet service users. Attend events that the organisation is hosting and become a familiar face. However, be careful not to be a nuisance.

7. When you’ve been appointed choose a colleague to act as an ‘informal’ mentor; it’s always useful to have someone else to use as a sound board, especially if this is your first trusteeship. You should also build a good relationship with your chair – if they don’t offer it, try asking to meet them for an ‘appraisal’ on an annual basis, that way you can understand what the charity and board need from you. Some chief executives also like to have the opportunity to speak to trustees individually and many host informal catch-ups like breakfast meetings so they can have more detailed conversations about what the charity needs from you.

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