In recent years there has been a lot of research on the benefits of volunteering, both on a personal and professional level and there is even compelling research suggesting that it is literally good for our health. Trusteeship, however, is a unique form of volunteering and brings its own distinct brand of challenge and reward. With up to 50 per cent of charities currently having vacancies on their boards and with charities facing unprecedented challenges, let’s revisit some of the many reasons everyone should consider joining a charity board.
There’s no doubt that being a trustee is one of the most powerful ways in which you can contribute to your local community or to a cause you really care about. As a trustee, you play an integral part in the good governance of a charity, not only ensuring that the organisation remains viable and sustainable but ensuring that it adheres closely to its mission and works in the interests of its beneficiaries. These days, corporations of all sizes are taking voluntary and community enriching activities much more seriously with trusteeship considered one of the most effective methods of professional development and community engagement available to employees.
Strategic experience can be hard to come by in the work place and it can often take decades to find yourself in a role which requires strategic oversight. Trusteeship is a fantastic way of getting a head start on this, at once giving you the opportunity to develop and hone your critical thinking, problem-solving and analytical skills as well as developing vital strategic sensibilities and team working skills. There’s no doubt that the strategic experience which can be gained through trusteeship can have an immediate and powerful impact upon your career, opening doors to new responsibilities and more senior job prospects.
Surrounding yourself with a wide variety of professional contacts is one of the best things you can do for your career. Ensuring that you have access to good people from diverse professional backgrounds can be useful on so many levels. Whether it’s seeking advice on a current work place predicament or scoping out opportunities for the next step in your career progression, being a trustee can open up your professional network in all kinds of unforeseen and advantageous ways that will only become clear once you have taken the leap!
Being a trustee can be a very interesting experience, not least because it allows you to adapt and apply everything you have learned in your day job to an entirely new context. Through trusteeship you can gain a clearer idea of your own professional strengths and weaknesses whilst simultaneously learning altogether new skills. Understanding how to adapt your professional knowledge to useful ends within a charity is a good reminder of your own versatility, giving you confidence in your existing abilities whilst challenging you push the boundaries of your expertise.
It is often the case that so called ‘soft skills’ are eclipsed by a charity’s requirement to have a well rounded set of skills in the board room. However, communication and people skills are just as important and, in some cases, more so. The ability to collaborate effectively with others, to constructively challenge the ideas of fellow trustees as well as those of the CEO and senior management is essential to ensuring that the board’s strategic decisions are scrutinised and tested before being implemented. Negotiating, empathising, listening and clearly communicating ideas and concerns are huge factors in this process and often help to set the tone and culture of board meetings. All of this is essential to positive, forward thinking and efficient charity governance, but it’s also a fantastic opportunity to develop sound judgement and interpersonal skills that will improve your prospects whatever career path you happen to be on.
Becoming a trustee is a fantastic and fascinating way to engage in the charity sector. It’s a role which will give back just as much as you put in and often much, much more. Though often challenging, trusteeship will reward the adventurous and ambitious with a wealth of personal and professional skills and connections which will stand you in good stead throughout your career whilst empowering you with a new sense of purpose and prospect.