Especially for Trustees’ Week we’ve invited Alex to write a guest blog. He’s used the opportunity to share his take on the skills that are useful for being a Trustee.
In no particular order, here are my current top ten skills you need as a Trustee. I am learning about new attributes Trustees need all the time, so this isn’t a fixed list! I would love to hear your opinions, what do you think?
Passion into action
It is of fundamental important that you care about the aims of the charity that you are a Trustee for- but now you are on the Board, what are you going to do about it? What practical steps can you and the rest of the Board take to help the charity?
It is crucial that all Trustees have the ability to understand a budget and to review audited accounts. You don’t have to love figures, just to be able to work your way around them. Of course, if finance is your thing then you will be particularly in demand on Boards.
Adding something to a board
A skill; a perspective; a willingness to tackle a particular part of organisational development for the charity….this is a long list.
However experienced you are on Boards, when you join you have a new organisation to learn about with specific strengths and challenges. You need to try to hit the ground running. You also need to understand how the Board works. What angles are people coming from? What are their personalities like? How do you fit in? What skills do you lack that you might want to ask for some support with?
A Charity and its operations is made up of a lot of parts- beneficiaries, staff, Board members, other volunteers, funders, local press etc. While there will not be agreement all the time, you need to understand the priorities of others and to try to bring as many people together as possible towards a common vision.
This takes two main forms. The first is with other Board members. They don’t have to be your best friends but it is good if you have a decent working relationship where you can be honest with each other. Go for a coffee (or pint) together if you can. Support them with the things they are less confident about and don’t be scared to ask for their help in return. The second form of support is about being supportive of the staff of the charity, if the charity is lucky enough to have staff. They may be under a lot of pressure in all sorts of ways. If you can praise them when they deserve it, support them when they need it, and know when you should get involved and when you shouldn’t: then ultimately the aims and ambitions of the charity are more likely to be fulfilled.
When you first join a Board, you may see very clearly where your skills are needed. But over time, the organisation will change, your fellow Trustees will change, and you will change. Be prepared to help out in ways that you hadn’t envisaged: your Trustee experience will be all the richer for it.
In the midst of budgets, strategy, staffing issues and funding crises, you need to remember why the charity is ultimately there. Beneficiaries, beneficiaries, beneficiaries. If your efforts are supporting the intended beneficiaries of the charity at present, and if your actions are going some way to help that support to continue into the future, then you are doing a good job.
One of the blessings of being a Trustee is having the time to help the charity decide the strategic direction it is going to take. Staff may be tied up in fighting fires and in providing much-needed day to day services. A Board, especially a balanced Board, should have the opportunity and skills to think about strategy. How is the charity doing? Could it do other things? Should it stop doing some things?
Last, but definitely not least, especially in the current financial climate. This might be anything from providing funding contacts and advice to helping run a cake sale. Again if you already have fundraising skills, you may be able to greatly help a charity from the moment you join.