Scarcely a week seems to go by without some bad news story about charity governance. Kids Company, fundraising scandals, harsh words from a House of Commons Committee; there has been a stream of news articles illustrating how bad governance can be and the terrible implications of this. And yes, bad governance is clearly a serious problem.
But is this a fair picture of governance in the sector? No! There are many truly amazing but unsung boards out there, steering their charities through perilous waters with good judgement, great courage and lots of hard work.
How do I know this? Because I have just been reading through examples of many such boards. I have had the privilege to be one of the judges in the inaugural Charity Governance Awards. Together with many much wiser heads than mine, we shortlisted from over 100 entries, and the calibre was truly impressive. We were looking for boards which had shown real leadership in improving impact, embracing opportunity and risk, demonstrating diversity and inclusion, or turning around their charity’s fortunes.
It was a humbling and inspiring experience: instances of trustees making tough decisions for the long term, going the extra mile to create vibrant, diverse boards, seizing new opportunities without betraying the charity’s values, to name but a few.
Whilst the challenges and the responses varied widely (as did the nature and size of the charities), all showed great commitment and leadership. They seemed to me to demonstrate the personal qualities of good trustees, as outlined by charity lawyer Philip Kirkpatrick recently: conscientiousness, inquisitiveness, courage and judgement – meshed with effective challenge.
Of course there are cases of poor governance, and we should study them closely. But there are also many cases of brilliant governance, and we can, perhaps, learn even more from them. Certainly we should be sharing these stories to bring balance to the flow of bad news and to remind ourselves that the charity sector has much to be proud of.
I am looking forward to 12 May when the winners will be announced and we can celebrate their success. But, even more so, I am eagerly anticipating sharing the stories of the shortlisted through an ebook that will be compiled soon afterwards. There are wonderful Boards out there, and we all deserve to know about them!
Governance – and good governance in particular – is vital for all charities. Reach was deeply engaged with Trustees’ Week which, as always, was a great opportunity to celebrate the fantastic work of trustees across the UK.
From issues of diversity and finance to strategy and recruitment, we are keenly aware of the many challenges faced by trustees in the difficult role of steering their organisations through a time of uncertainty and, in many cases, austerity.
Having met with countless charities who have demonstrated incredible resilience and innovation, we have been inspired to work with our partners, the Clothworkers’ Company, Prospectus and NPC to design a new and exciting award which recognises great governance in action.
We know that there are a number of governance awards already out there so, rather than create an award which replicates existing ones, we want to create an award which celebrates and showcases some of the inspiring stories that many trustees have to share. We really want to demonstrate, through stories and actions, how good governance in trying times can make all the difference. We also want to develop awards that will be really worthwhile to the award winners.
Of course, we realise that there may not be an appetite in the sector for another award, so we are appealing to you to let us know if this is something that we should proceed with. As such, we would be extremely grateful if you could let us know your thoughts by completing the survey below. It’s only a handful of questions so it’ll only take a minute, I promise!
Thank you for taking the time.
Have you recently applied to a trustee position but struggled to write a cover letter? Do you often feel that you don’t know where to start or have even questioned the importance of one?
You are not alone!
As a trustee recruiter, I regularly receive emails and calls asking me these questions – from aspiring and seasoned trustees alike.
Is a cover letter important? My response to this is a very strong yes! Charities have different causes and organisations want to ensure their cause is championed by the most effective and passionate people. Hence a cover letter is the first step in displaying that you are this person!
While a CV tends to give a sketch of your work history, a cover letter helps you showcase your personality and contribution as a trustee.
To begin with, it may be useful to know that trustee cover letters are slightly different from professional ones in both format and tone. Trustee cover letters are simple, have flexible formats and are content focused. They tend to be less business like and more personable. The other important thing to remember is that leaving out a cover letter in a trustee application process is not an option.
Writing such cover letters may seem daunting at first however with little exploration this can be easily accomplished.
These letters basically ask for three key elements:
So, taking this into account, how can you draft a cover letter that will have an impact?
Once you have selected a charity with a trustee position you want to apply for, you must show your reasons for wanting to get involved, demonstrating your passion for the cause and your commitment to get – and perhaps more importantly stay – involved. Therefore begin your application by getting to the heart of your charity and knowing what sort of organisation it is and how it runs.
A charity’s website is a good place to start background research. Sometimes trustee job descriptions won’t tell you enough to get started, so I’d seek help from your contacts or brokering agencies such as Reach to help you gain access to clients, annual reports or answer any initial questions you may have.
Example 1: This example highlights how personal experiences can be aligned to charitable objectives and professional expertise. It highlights how one’s life experience can turn into a passion for a cause and an organisation and also demonstrates why the individual wants to get involved:
I have pleasure in attaching my CV to apply as a Trustee for Campaigning and Advocacy for XX charity.
I have followed your organisation and admired your work for several years now. I was motivated to apply for this trustee role having been diagnosed with a severe peanut allergy where I was severely hospitalised. Following this experience I realised how much more awareness was needed amongst the general public and what to watch out for. I would therefore love to apply my skills, expertise and passion towards your organisation and helping to steer it towards even greater success.
I served for six years as a trustee for the national charity YY which I found extremely rewarding notably in extending their membership base. I am committed to ensuring that I give the best I can to any organisation I get involved with. I believe I am well-suited to the role as I have significant experience of national campaigning to a target audience, including the execution of multi-channel marketing campaigns.
A charity wants to know that any trustee who joins them will be a valuable asset who will be able to give their time, commitment and passion so if you can show this, you will be in a strong position.
Clients are looking for candidates who can demonstrate their contribution as trustees. You need to highlight your professional skills and expertise and show what you will bring to the board. A trustee board should ideally have a mix of different skills, mindsets and experience to show diversity and ensure balance. You need to show in your cover letter what skills you have. When attempting to write down your contribution as a trustee, tailor your letter around the job and person specification.
Example 2 – This is an example of a thorough cover letter which provides a holistic and clear overview of all their skills:
I believe myself to be competent in this area and can offer the very specific skills and experience you are looking for:
- Audit, Finance & Risk Management – I am a member of the Governance & Audit Committees at YY and I have contributed to the Board’s consideration of Governance arrangements by …
- High Level Financial Competence – I am a qualified accountant with a broad base of finance skills but also have the experience to take a lead role in XX.
I can demonstrate dedication to the role and can meet the time commitment to read all papers, prepare for, attend and contribute to meetings in line with the work of the finance and audit committee. I can also undertake to attend training and development and engage pro-actively in the induction process.
- I can analyse complex information and reach sensible conclusions by demonstrating the ability to communicate effectively with a diverse range of people in a constructive manner.
- I can work with others effectively and believe teamwork enhances overall performance and can lead to better decisions and services.
In terms of personal qualities:
- I am able to demonstrate a sharing to the values including that of probity in public life and can also demonstrate a commitment to your charity’s cultural elements …
- I have a ‘duty of care’ ethos which is at the heart of everything I do and I believe investing in a diverse workforce enables better performance and a more inclusive customer service.
This is an example of a clear cover letter which shows instantly how they align to the needs of the organisation. As with job applications, trustee positions can get a number of applicants so make sure you stand out!
Clients are looking for people who can fit into their culture. Make use of relevant and transferable abilities and personal experiences. This is where any personal research you have done and any preliminary client conversations you have had will make you stand out.
Trustee vacancies are aligned to charity objectives and you may find as you write about your professional experience that it doesn’t quite fit the job description… don’t worry though! Make your cover letter unique by highlighting your transferable skills from your workplace along with your personal experiences, to show what you would bring to the role.
Example 2 – Here’s an example of a cover letter that showcases the skills acquired in the commercial sector tailored to the third sector:
I am currently looking for an opportunity to use my expertise to support a not-for-profit organisation, as for the first time in my business life I am able to commit the time necessary to offer my skills as a trustee in an environment where I can bring real value to a board.
I was drawn to XX charity opportunity, as a stated role requirement was the ‘evaluation of complex information, assisting to build consensus and robust governance within the board group’ – which dovetails well with my skills gained over many years in the analysis of complex (often financial) information required in the acquisition, restructuring and improving of operations I have undertaken in many differing arenas.
I have been a Director for many years and have experience in both SME and large international PLC operations. I feel that one of the key strengths I could bring to the trustee board is in negotiation, having spent my entire working life in a commercial environment, negotiating with contractors and suppliers. I am particularly looking for a role where I can bring relevant experience to the table to strengthen the skills base of the existing board.
A charity needs to have people who fit into their organisation whilst at the same time challenging them to reach their full potential. So try to describe how you will fit as well as how you can contribute as a trustee.
I believe that even the most distinguished CVs need cover letters for trustee vacancies. The above examples of cover letters are in no way exhaustive however, they show effective ways to highlight your relevant skills, passion and experience that any charity would need. Remember the three key elements and steps for trustee applications to guide you and you should craft a cover letter that wows.
I am happy to review any cover letters you are looking to send, so please contact me. As a trustee recruiter with Reach I’m committed to help you find a role that fits you.
The FSI’s Pauline shares her take on the impact of volunteers
When we started Small Charity Week in 2010 we didn’t include a Volunteering Day – that was a real oversight as much of the Small Charity Sector would grind to a halt without the army of volunteers that support a diverse range of causes. Our omission wasn’t intentional, just naive and it didn’t take too long before we realised that Small Charity Week just wasn’t complete without a whole day focussed on volunteering.
Why? Almost every person I have met who has volunteered to support a cause they care passionately about has felt that they got more out of the experience than they put in. And almost every charity I have spoken to say that they get more from the volunteers than they feel they give them back.
Volunteer or Charity who’s got it right?
There is no doubt that volunteering can be an incredibly fulfilling experience for the volunteer. Now more than ever before volunteering opportunities exist both locally and internationally, so it’s great to be able to make a difference in your local community, or on the other side of the world.
No matter how few hours you have to volunteer, no matter whether you volunteer in person or from home, no matter which cause you support, every minute spent volunteering focuses your attention on the big picture of how we all need to work together to make our world a better and safer place for all.
If volunteers ‘get something back’ for the work they do that’s great too. Of course the main motivation will be to give something back but it’s not unreasonable to also ‘get something back’. Volunteering helps you to meet new people, make new friends for life, experience new cultures and see society from a different perspective. Whether the payback is personal growth a new skill gained to put on your CV, or just keeping yourself busy, no matter what the payback as long as it’s meaningful to you, that’s great. What you get back is up to you and you should be clear about what you want so that everyone is clear from the beginning.
As charities we need to remember that recognition takes many forms and sometimes just telling someone that they are doing a ‘good job’ can inspire them, give them confidence and a sense of pride in what they are doing.
Volunteers have a unique perspective on the issues that face the causes they support. Whether taking the afternoon tea around the local hospital, planning the marketing strategy for a community charity or helping build a well in Africa they get under the skin of the issues facing society.
So in Small Charity Week 2014 let’s all celebrate volunteering and understand that ‘everything that goes around comes around’ or at least that’s what my Dad used to say!
For more information on Volunteering Day of Small Charity Week see the Small Charity Week website – all initiatives and activities during the week are free for charities with a turnover under £1.5 million.
Pauline Broomhead is the CEO of the FSI, the charity behind Small Charity Week. The FSI offers free training, conferences and support for small charities across the UK.
Having had great success in our work with students’ unions over the last few years, the TrusteeWorks team is excited to be moving forward with NUS in a more formal capacity as preferred supplier.
We are confident that this relationship will give us the opportunity to help many more students’ unions source fantastic external trustees.
Reach Volunteering has entered 2014 on a strong note! We have secured long-term funding from institutions like GlaxoSmithKline and City Bridge Trust and plan to introduce iReach, our new web-based platform. This will dramatically increase the volume, range and quality of skilled volunteering across the U.K.
iReach will come into service this summer, building an online community where charities and skilled volunteers meet, interact, and find their ideal match. It will create an increased number of matches and significantly reduce Reach’s transaction costs.
Reach had an excellent 2013 helping to place 20% more skilled volunteers than in the previous year, representing an estimated value of £8mn worth of skills transferred into the sector.
A Reach highlight was the decision to make our Trusteeworks Matching Service free from 1 November for charities with an annual turnover of less than £1mn. This led to a 150% increase in demand for the service.
There was a huge surge in volunteer registrations in the second half of the year, with an average of 167 new volunteers joining the Reach register every month, double the amount for the same period last year!
Charities continually need to fill vacancies in key roles, particularly as trustees. Reach, as the U.K’s leading skilled volunteering charity has been providing this invaluable service for more than 30 years. Our placement advisors are widely respected for their expertise and enthusiasm in finding the right match between skilled volunteer and charity.
Posted in News Tagged with: Big Society, Charity Governance, Charity Trustee, Fundraising, Good practice in volunteering, Governance, Improving performance, News, Reach volunteering, Skilled volunteering, Third Sector, TrusteeWorks
The recruitment of trustees is something that all charities do differently. However, there are a number of mistakes which, as a recruitment expert in the field, I see cropping up again and again.
Trustees’ Week is a great time to examine them.
1) Sparse or weakly constructed role description
This is probably the most common problem with a recruitment process. The most qualified professionals seeking trustee roles can be as discerning as they like: they look for role descriptions that stand out from the crowd and many will only apply to those roles that are carefully crafted: grammar, clarity, purpose, incentive, interest and scope are all aspects of your role which will be judged.
Many organisations now create attractive information packs to ensure that their role catches the eye of prospective trustees and this is a very effective tactic. Remember, the quality of your role description reflects the quality of the organisations work.
2) Unwillingness to spend money on the recruitment process
It is a common misconception that volunteers work for free.
Of course, volunteers are not paid but that doesn’t mean that they don’t consume resources: expenses, training, management time all contribute to a cost. A lot of charities believe that, because a trustee is unpaid, their recruitment should also incur no cost, despite the fact that it takes time to draft a role description (and even more to create an info pack). Equally, dealing with applications, shortlisting, interview and induction all take a toll of resources.
As such, organisations should not see investing in good trustees as wasted resources but rather, a solid investment which will pay dividends if done right.
3) Thinking outside the box
Charities who struggle to find the ideal candidate are often looking at their applicants without creativity. For example, a charity seeking a fundraising trustee may overlook candidates who have an extensive back ground in marketing, yet, in many instances, fundraising is a form of targeted marketing.
In short, flexibility and a view to recruiting people with transferable skills and determination may often prove as effective (and sometimes even more so) than a candidate who ticks all the boxes but has limited time or passion for the role.
Posted in Blog Entries Tagged with: Charity boards, Charity Governance, Charity Trustee, Good practice in governance, Good practice in volunteering, Skilled volunteering, Trustee Recruitment, Trustees' Week
Reach’s Trusteeworks Matching Service will be free from 1 November 2013 for charities with an annual turnover of under £1 million. Reach believes that removing the entry level charge of £75 for smaller charities, who have limited funds for recruiting, will make a big difference by helping them to strengthen their boards.
Strong boards, with a sufficient breadth of experience and skills, are crucial for charities facing difficult decisions in an uncertain economic climate. The ability to recruit outside a charity’s immediate networks by using a service like Reach is an important factor in this process.
The Trusteeworks Matching Service provides a free, high-quality introduction to skilled volunteers. The trustee role appears on Reach’s register of available trustee opportunities, and Reach’s recruitment teams search their extensive register of available volunteers, sound out candidates and forward suitable names to the charity.
In addition to the Matching Service, Reach offers the Trusteeworks Matching Plus Service and the Trusteeworks Premium Service which provide additional features such as preparing advertising copy for the role and in-depth screening and briefing of candidates.
Reach is the biggest recruiter of trustees in the UK having placed nearly 750 with charities all over the country since the launch of Trusteeworks in October 2009, including 185 in 2012 and 142 so far this year. Overall, Reach placed 500 volunteers in 2012 representing an estimated value of £9 million worth of skills transferred into the charity sector, and registered over 1,000 new volunteers and more than 1,100 placement opportunities with charities.
Posted in News Tagged with: Charity boards, Charity Governance, Charity Trustee, Corporate volunteering, Good practice in governance, Good practice in volunteering, Governance, Measuring impact, Reach in the news, Reach volunteering, Recession, Skilled volunteering, Trustee, Trustee Recruitment, Trustees' Week, TrusteeWorks, Volunteer expertise
Conchita from The FSI guest blogs in the run-up to 2013’s Small Charity Week.
Recent research by the FSI into the skills gaps within the small charity sector has shown that charitable organisations with an annual turnover under £1.5 million continue to struggle in key areas which impacts on their ability to deliver services.
The full report shows that as small charities prioritise the use of funding to deliver frontline programmes, they are increasingly unable to train or develop staff and volunteers. 66% of respondents stated there was no funding available for training and development, while 37% said there would be no room to improve their charitable services, which could impair the quality delivered to beneficiaries.
Small charities reported that impact reporting, long-term strategic planning and marketing were the areas in which they were struggling to plug this skills gap in their organisation. To see the full report, please click here.
Small Charity Week 2013 will be taking place between the 17th-22nd June and aims to address some of the issues raised by small charities as areas in which they struggle. Small charities can sign up to six days of free initiatives and competitions, including cash prizes, pro-bono advice and guidance from third sector and business experts including, the FSI, Reach, Oxfam and Credit Suisse to name a few. Also available will be opportunities for small charities to engage with policy makers and influencers when Nick Hurd, Minister of Civil Society hosts a cross-party event at Westminster on Policy Day.
Small charities have told us they continue to rely heavily on volunteers to support their activity and for the first time the FSI are including a Volunteering Day into the week’s programme to help small charities to promote their volunteer opportunities and find the skills they need for their organisation. We are excited to be working alongside Reach to support charities on this day.
The full breakdown for the week is as follows:
Small charities can sign up to all of the free activities of Small Charity Week through the website smallcharityweek.com and follow news through twitter @SCWeek2013 or the Facebook page
Conchita Garcia is Head of Projects and Development at The FSI. Here she blogs in a personal capacity.
Posted in Blog Entries Tagged with: Big Society, Charity boards, Charity Governance, Charity Trustee, Creative volunteer engagement, Fundraising, Governance, Skilled volunteering, Third Sector, Third sector leaders, Trustee Recruitment, Volunteer expertise
The recent Grant Thornton report on good governance emphasised the need to recruit and maintain a diverse and effective Board of Trustees with a broad range of trustee skills, knowledge and experience.
This will help charities to be fair and open in the way they deliver services and to be more accountable for their actions all serving to increase confidence in their work.
The report based on a study of the Annual Reports of the UK’s top 100 charities highlighted many good examples of diversity – not least the 31% representation of women on their Boards compared to 22% on the Boards of the UK’s top 100 companies.
It also highlighted the important connection between having polices for good governance and being accountability though providing full information about these in Annual Reports. Being seen to adhere to good governance principles and practice can be as important as good governance itself. There is a symbiotic relationship with the discipline of having to describe in the Annual Report the system for good governance compelling charities to concentrate on how they can bring about and maintain good governance in the first place.
The report sets out a number of recommendations for good governance and good operational practice in areas such as Board succession planning and sets out ideas for what should be covered Annual Reports such as:
All charity trustees would learn something of benefit about how to make their charity even more effective by reading this well-researched and presented report.