Thursday, 5 November 2015

Go on! Become a Trustee!

Bilwa Iyer blogs for Trustees' Week.

Have you ever considered trusteeship? Many of us volunteer our time to causes that are close to our hearts but even some of the most dedicated, long term volunteers have failed to consider trusteeship as something they could actually do.

As a trustee recruiter and trustee myself, I often find that few people know about it and those who do, are unsure of how to become one. In addition to this, there are many misconceptions about who can become a trustee: most wrongly assume that you have to be middle-aged or retired with a huge portfolio of achievements and extensive non-executive experience. Whilst this is sometimes the case, being a trustee is a much broader undertaking than simply applying a narrow band of professional skills.

Last year I had started out sharing my experience on why being a trustee was a great opportunity. It’s been more than a year as a trustee and while I do still feel the same, I also seem to have discovered new motivations along the way which seem to go beyond mere career aspirations.  So here’s an account of why becoming a trustee is a great opportunity personally and professionally.

Trusteeship in a nutshell

Simply put, trustees are Board members who govern a charity. As a trustee you’d be helping a charity run efficiently according to its mission, strategy and objectives set out in its governing document. You will not be managing but will be working towards developing an overarching strategy, keeping it risk free, compliant along with a duty of care and prudence to its beneficiaries.
Your role as a trustee could be that of a chair, treasurer or a general trustee or a trustee with specific functional expertise.

Your effectiveness as a trustee will depend on:

  1. Your ability to work together with other trustees, appreciate the strengths each one brings to a discussion
  2. Your time commitment and involvement in the organisation’s work and cause
  3. You adding value in areas within and sometimes outside your area of expertise no matter how big or small
  4. You engaging in trustee meetings to challenge, support the decision making process and sticking by the outcomes 
  5. You learning to balance your involvement in operational and governance matters

Small and large organisations expect different levels of engagement from their trustees. However, regardless of the size of your organisation, make sure to research your charity, connect with staff and trustees and stay engaged and focussed. For more details refer to the Charity Commission’s simple yet well written guidance document ‘The essential trustee: what you need to know (CC3)’.

Why I became a Trustee

I’ve been extensively involved in introducing professionals as trustees within the charity sector and have encountered a wide variety of reasons for why people become trustees. I became a trustee to improve my career prospects and to get strategic and leadership experience. Having spent more than a year as a trustee, there have been both satisfying and challenging moments. The challenging ones are the typical ones to name a few i.e. trying to balance my time between my day job and trustee meetings; trying to balance my involvement in operational matters and governance matters. These are never easy to get right but have definitely improved my ability to manage time better and prioritise.

The rewarding moments are those where the Board begins to view you as a valued member for your decision making and problem solving skills that helped them take a step in the right direction. Personally I have developed the courage to challenge and support decisions, learnt to appreciate the strengths of other Board members I work with and communicate objectively and constructively. I have realised that to become a trustee it is not enough to be passionate about it but to be able to stick by and be accountable to all things going well and not so well.

How you can become a Trustee

The nature of Boards is changing and there is a need for diverse trusteeship. There is also an uptake of trusteeship from professionals these days so make the most of this opportunity and come forward. You as a potential trustee can now show the following: soft-skills; vocational skills both relevant and transferable, and personal experience all of which add context and depth to strategic decision-making. If you are someone who can stay committed and devote sufficient time, make a genuine contribution as a member on Board and be accountable then this one is for you.

You can become a trustee in three easy ways:

  1. Register yourself with Reach and approach charities directly
  2. Network at trustee events organised by organisations such as GLV, I AM, NCVO, Small Charities Coalition etc and join focussed trustee groups and hubs on LinkedIn, Guardian etc.
  3. Apply directly to trustee vacancies advertised on charity websites, jobs boards and LinkedIn and don’t be afraid to directly approach a charity you are interested in

Research the charity you like, reach out to them and explore the many possibilities of engaging with them. Go on! Become a trustee if you aren’t already one, it’s a journey waiting to be explored! For those who are already trustees come forward and share your experiences thoughts and contributions. Let’s celebrate trusteeship!

 Bilwa Iyer - With a background in HR, Bilwa is a Trustee Recruiter in Reach’s TrusteeWorks team. She is currently actively contributing as an HR Trustee at The Abbeyfield Society George Brooker House.

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