Why become a trustee?

19 May 2014

Barely a week goes by when trustee recruitment isn’t on an agenda in a Pilotlight meeting. Working with over 70 charities at any one time this isn’t surprising; attracting trustees with the right mix of time, skills and enthusiasm for the cause is tough and keeping them can be even tougher.

A report by NPC in 2012 highlighted that there are between 820,000 and one million trustee positions in the UK, but almost half (48%) of charities have at least one vacancy on their board.

Yet, being a trustee means you have one of the most important and exciting roles within a charity. With the CEO, you will set the direction of the organisation and are ultimately responsible for ensuring it achieves its aims. 

Being a trustee gives you the opportunity to:

  • Provide support to a CEO leading an organisation that is making a real difference to individuals or society as a whole 
  • Contribute your skills and expertise to a cause that is important to you
  • Play a fundamental role in the strategic development of the organisation
  • Gain valuable experience and learn new skills within a leadership role
  • Challenge yourself,  by applying your skills in a different environment
  • Gain non-executive board experience
  • Learn from other trustees and gain new insights from seeing how others respond to situations and make decisions

Davida Johnson, Pilotlighter, non-executive Director and trustee of Step Forward says: 

“I got involved with Step Forward because I was inspired first by their CEO (Jennifer Fear) whom I heard speak at a Pilotlight event! I think it's important to be passionate and motivated about the cause. As a trustee I have been able to use well honed business skills to address issues the charity feels are critical. Being a trustee provides personal development opportunities which can then be leveraged into other non-executive roles- inside or outside the not for profit sector.”

So, you like the idea of becoming a trustee, but what are the key things to think about before you go ahead and commit to a charity?

How much time are you willing and able to give? The time required to be a trustee is very much dependent on the charity but before approaching them, think about how much time you are willing to give and check if this fits with their requirements. Ask questions about:  how often they meet, where the meetings are and how much of your time is needed outside of meetings. This will give you a good idea of the level of commitment that is expected.

What skills and experience do you have to offer? Not having any experience of the charity sector should not be a barrier to your involvement as a trustee, in fact many organisations are looking for skills from other sectors to enhance their board and provide a fresh perspective. Think about what you can contribute to the board, such as, great organisational skills, experience of strategy development, marketing or financial experience, access to your network, etc. The organisation will often have a clear idea of the skills they require so have a chat to see if you would be a good fit.

Robbie Cowbury, Pilotlight Project Manager and trustee for mindapples says:

“You can talk about how charities should be run and what strategy they should have all you like, but being a trustee puts you on the spot and really tests your skills. I joined the Board of mindapples because I am passionate about the cause, and through them have had the opportunity to put into practice everything I’ve learnt by working at Pilotlight. As a trustee I am able to work at a level it will take me years to get to in my professional life.” 

Choosing a charity
Are you interested in a particular cause? It is not surprising that people become trustees of charities tackling issues they care about and this is really important. Attending a board meeting after a tiring day at work or an away day on a Saturday morning is much easier if the cause is something you are passionate about.

Dr Simon Wallace, Medical Consultant and trustee for Fitzrovia Youth in Action says: 

“Being a trustee of Fitzrovia Youth in Action allows me to utilise my professional expertise for a cause that I am passionate about. For me that is the health and well being of children and young people. By taking on such a role, I am able to fulfil ambitions and goals that I feel make a real difference to the chaotic world we live in. It provides that much talked about, but seldom met, challenge of cracking the work/life balance.”  

Legal Obligations
The Charity Commission provides extensive materials on the legal obligations for trustees and detailed guides on what being a trustee involves. The organisation you join should provide an induction to ensure you know what is expected and your responsibilities. But it is always worth speaking to other trustees to see how it all works in practice.

If you’re now convinced that being a trustee is for you, then the next step is to start looking out for adverts for trustee vacancies or get in touch with a charity you would like to be involved with.

Written by
Profile picture for user Charlie Hayter
Charlie Hayter
Senior Associate - Pilotlight

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