Good governance is all about understanding the options facing the organisation and their implications. In this guest blog, Peter Kelly, Business Development Director at Charity Bank, provides an introduction to loan finance for charity trustees.
Charity trustees and management need to understand what loan finance can offer to determine whether it is a suitable option for them.
Indeed loans are not right for all situations or organisations and careful consideration of the financial commitment should always be taken. In the right circumstances, however loans can be a valuable tool for a charity to further its charitable mission.
A loan can help organisations become more sustainable. For instance, it can allow you to buy a property rather than continuing to pay rent. This is one of the most common uses of Charity Bank loans.
Loans can help a charity to grow its income. Borrowing to invest in a new activity that increases income can be a fast track to growth, with the additional income helping to repay the loan. In this way, loans can reduce reliance on grants and donations, whilst allowing you to broaden your range of services.
Loans can help bring in grants. In Charity Bank’s latest social impact study 46 per cent of respondents from its existing borrowers reported that the loan helped them unlock funding they couldn’t have accessed otherwise.
Loans can be useful in the short-term. A loan can also be used to bridge the receipt of retrospective grants or payments under service delivery contracts. This can help smooth cashflow deficits and make it easier to plan and manage your finances.
In short, in the right circumstances a loan can empower charities to: seize opportunities, extend their reach, smooth cashflow, improve financial sustainability and leverage additional funds.
Before applying for a loan, it’s useful to know what a lender will look for when considering a loan application. Some of the key factors considered in the due diligence process are as follows.
First and foremost, a lender will be looking for evidence that a borrower can afford to repay the loan. The charity will need to be sustainable and ideally have several streams of income so that repayment isn’t reliant on any one source. The charity will also need to demonstrate that it can continue to repay the borrowing following external events such as rises in the general level of interest rates.
As part of the loan process, a lender would expect to see a business plan including financial projections. Once overheads, expenses and any plans to generate future revenue are considered, will the charity have sufficient surplus income available to afford the loan repayments?
The governance of a charity is important and will be taken into consideration: who are the management and trustees, how long have they been involved and do they collectively have the breadth of experience and skills to manage the organisation?
Reach Volunteering provides a template to allow you to perform a skills audit with your board. A skills audit will capture the current skills of the trustee board and highlight possible gaps in trustee skills or where professional guidance is required.
A lender will need to see evidence that a charity’s governing documents (this may be a Trust Deed or Articles of Association) give the legal powers to borrow and, if necessary, to pledge assets as security for the loan. This is not always clear, so you may need to take professional advice.
Unincorporated organisations have an implied power to borrow but may still require a specific power to charge assets. Changing your powers to allow borrowing or the giving of security is usually a relatively straightforward process and your legal advisers will be able to guide you through this.
Social lenders, such as Charity Bank, will also wish to understand the social impact of a charity and of the proposed use of the loan. They will want you to provide evidence of the good work your organisation is doing with tangible examples that it delivers social benefit.
Loans will usually require security. Examples of security offered against a loan could be property, cash deposits or a guarantee from a trading subsidiary.
Whatever your situation or proposal, the best guidance we can give is to open a dialogue with potential lenders at an early stage. This will give you the best possible chance of finding a loan that’s suitable for you needs and of ensuring you have sufficient time to get it approved.
Peter Kelly is Business Development Director at Charity Bank, the ethical bank that lends solely to charities, social enterprises and other organisations where the loan is for social purpose. Charity Bank is run for the sector and owned by the sector, as all its shareholders are charitable trusts, foundations and social purpose organisations.
The stories from this year’s Charity Governance Awards winners and entrants are a vivid illustration of the difference a good board can make. They tell of boards that have brought fresh thinking, integrity and a clear vision to their charity’s work, strengthened its impact and, sometimes, averted disaster. The charities themselves range from tiny to large, and their causes are diverse. The governance categories they entered include digital, diversity, impact and turnaround.
They are all stories of great leadership, exercised as a team, for a common cause.
This is quite at odds with the way that we, as a sector, usually talk about trusteeship. Often the focus is on the fiduciary and the language is all compliance, liability, duty. For a long time, I was deeply uninterested in anything to do with trusteeship: it had a fusty, almost Dickensian connotation, and the link between trustees and the work of the charity – the difference it made – seemed tenuous.
However, as the entrants for this year’s awards (and last year’s too) clearly demonstrate, good governance involves so much more than just getting the basics of compliance and scrutiny right.
A common theme of these stories is of trustees keeping hold of the bigger picture and not being afraid to think afresh about how their focus should shift in the context of a changing world. In some cases this meant deciding to narrow their remit to key strategic activity, and stopping anything that did not contribute to this. (This can be so hard to do in practice!) Dementia UK decided to focus on exclusively providing care through specialist Admiral Nurses. For others this meant broadening their mission to create a more holistic approach. For example, Off The Record expanded its work from providing counselling services for young people to a mental health service for the same audience. Body & Soul widened the focus of its services from young people with HIV to a broader range of beneficiaries. Always, the board were careful to keep true to the overall purpose of the charity, and to the needs of service users.
Another strand (and a refreshing change from the stereotype of risk averse boards) is the willingness of the trustees to be ready to try new things where this helps them achieve their goals. Voluntary Arts’ BAME Advisory Panel incorporated shared meals into their meetings to help build inclusivity, Raise the Roof has embedded the use of several off-the-shelf platforms to deliver services and increase participation at board level. There are stories of boards taking bold decisions, based on calculated risk to achieve more – for example, Preston Road Women’s Centre took advantage of the Empty Homes Partnership to develop a new programme providing safe accommodation for women escaping domestic abuse.
The entrants share an evident belief in the value of collective, and collaborative, action; a willingness to look outwards and work in partnership with other organisations. There is also a real seriousness: clarity about the change that the board wants to achieve and determination to draw on the right information and processes to achieve this. These are boards who are interested in the impact of their organisation’s work, who seek evidence of the difference their service makes and take corrective action where necessary. They are also boards who are willing to step up to the plate when the going gets tough. Witness the courage and commitment shown by the trustees of Kentish Town City Farm when faced with a seemingly hopeless situation.
These stories are important for three reasons. They show how there is more to being a trustee than scrutinising accounts. They also offer a counterpoint to the bad press that governance has had in the last couple of years – the plethora of stories about people doing it wrong and a focus on the ‘problems of governance’. This negative focus is problematic, and not only because it creates an unbalanced picture of trusteeship. It actually contributes to the problem: underlying much of the existing bad governance. From poor trustee recruitment to lack of board engagement, there is a lack of appreciation of, or even belief in, the difference that a good board can make to a charity. Sharing examples of good governance is one of the most powerful ways to help people to understand the value of good trusteeship. It makes it tangible. These stories demonstrate that good governance really does matter, that it really is possible, and that it is worth striving to achieve. So, please read and enjoy these stories, and share them widely.
The Charity Governance Awards is organised by the Clothworkers’ Company, in partnership with Reach Volunteering, NPC and Prospectus.
The winners were announced at a ceremony at the Clothworkers Hall in London on Wednesday 24 May 2017.
Susana Morgado Gomez shares her experience of how being a trustee benefits both volunteer and charity.
‘Every year Mind In Camden provides a range of services to some 1,000 people with serious mental health needs and the staff who work with them, in partnership with national and local organisations, and the NHS.
‘I work in the banking sector and wanted to use my skills to make a contribution to a cause I believe in, as well as increase my Board exposure in a different sector. Mind In Camden were looking for a new trustee who, along with financial acumen, would bring strategic skills. They really wanted someone that shared the charity’s values, especially around the core principle of seeing mental health as a continuum on which we are all at different points, at different times in our lives. This means there is no ‘us’ (= well) and ‘them’ ( = ill).
‘In joining Mind In Camden as a trustee, I feel I am making a contribution to an organisation where people are very passionate about their work, but are working under very different circumstances and resources to my day job.
This is a highly complementary experience to the commercial and financial background that I have.
‘Being a trustee is a strategic role, it is not a day to day role, and it’s important to understand the difference. Trustees are ultimately accountable to the public and regulators – so it is important that the fit is right between the charity, the trustee and the chief executive.
‘From a practical perspective a trustee is expected to attend and actively contribute to effective Board meetings and decision making, in his or her area of core competence. A considerable part of the trustee role is about self-education in the sector and the charity to which he or she belongs. This is paramount to help you support and challenge the management team, as necessary. The support angle is very important to maintaining the motivation of the team, but it is equally important to challenge, helping them recognise any blind spots and mitigate risk, or not miss opportunities.
Additionally, a Trustee is a representative of the Charity and should not only be available to represent the charity as required, but also act as an Ambassador for the organisation.
‘In this particular experience I enjoy the different kind of environment and diverse background of the Board – the diversity contributes to you growing as an individual and a professional. In joining a team like the Board of a charity, you have to adapt to contribute – and use your transferable skills.
‘Being a trustee is an extremely personal experience that requires passion and energy. It is very rewarding and very energising.’
For more information on Mind services visit Mind In Camden.
To find a trustee or a trustee role, visit Reach Volunteering.
This article was authored by Director of Policy and Communications at the Charity Commission, Sarah Atkinson for the building boards for a digital age campaign.
Nowadays, more than ever, digital is at the centre of our everyday lives. As a result, charities need to have the skills and confidence to navigate and exploit technology for their organisation. That’s one of the reasons why we are supporting building boards for a digital age, a collaborative campaign to increase digital expertise on charity boards.
The benefits that technology can bring to charities are wide-ranging; they include the chance to reach a greater audience, to engage more reciprocally with supporters, and to increase operational efficiency. There are also risks that come with digital, from cyber fraud to data protection breaches. Having trustees with digital expertise on a board means that charities will be in a good position to exploit these benefits for their charity, but also to mitigate the risks, and be better prepared to manage any problems quickly and effectively. Digital can also support strong governance if trustees are able to use technology to access information and make quick decisions, increase insight into their charity’s activities, and ensure that when trustees delegate, they are using technology to clarify what the charity’s policies and procedures are.
If you have a digital background and are thinking of joining a charity board, there are huge benefits to taking on such a vital role.
Trusteeship is an excellent way to get involved in your community and help a cause that matters to you. It introduces you to new experiences and people, and allows you to develop new skills, stretch yourself and apply your knowledge to real, fresh challenges. What’s more, spearheading the use of new technology amongst trustees to ensure your organisation makes the greatest difference possible will be extremely rewarding.
Of course not all charities are lucky enough to have a trustee board with strong digital expertise. With the support of Grant Thornton and Zoe Amar Communications, the Charity Commission recently launched a new resource, 12 questions about digital for trustees, to highlight the issues that boards should consider when approaching digital.
Across 12 wider areas where digital could have an impact – such as strategy, culture, and service delivery – we’ve looked at the key questions trustees should ask as a starting point to navigate the digital opportunities and risks in that area.
For example, when it comes to using digital to build your brand, do you have a website that is easy to navigate and optimised for all devices?
Are you considering the digital trends when it comes to fundraising, such as the rise of crowdfunding?
We hope that boards that don’t yet have a trustee with digital expertise can use this tool to start a conversation and to increase their collective understanding of digital. We also hope that digital trustees, those with a deeper familiarity with and appetite for technology, can use it to evaluate where on a digital journey their charity is, and where there are gaps or opportunities, to ensure the sector isn’t left behind as we move to an increasingly digital future.
Sarah was appointed Director of Policy and Communications at the Charity Commission in October 2014. She is a board member of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years and a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations Professional Practices Panel.
Entries are now open to charities both large and small, from all sectors, for the Charity Governance Awards 2017 – the UK awards that recognise and reward good charity governance.
Reach Volunteering is delighted to be a partner in these awards that by shining a spotlight on the best of the sector, demonstrate how effective governance can transform a charity and the lives of its beneficiaries.
Entry to the awards is free. Each of the seven categories offers a £5,000 cash prize.
Looking for inspiration for your entry? Want to know what makes an award winner special? Browse the profile pages and short films for the winners, and the shortlisted charities.
You can enter online for free until 13 January 2017. The winners will be announced at the invite-only free awards ceremony drinks reception on 24 May 2017. Follow the conversation at #charitygov17
The Charity Governance Awards are organised by The Clothworkers’ Company – a City Livery company that supports trusteeship initiatives – in partnership with NPC (New Philanthropy Capital), Prospectus and Reach.
I’ve been spending the last few months working with Scottish charity chief executives and senior staff on the OneDigital action learning programme. It’s one of the most exciting pieces of work I’ve ever been involved in.
Many of the charities participating are taking a fresh look at the fundamentals of how they work. Their starting point is service users and supporters, not digital tools. They’re making simple changes to transform the way their staff work, and allowing them to get excited and empowered about the vital work they deliver.
All of this work is propelled forward by the broader OneDigital programme and the Scottish Government’s digital strategy. However, having worked with these charity leaders over the last few months it’s clear that we need radical change if the sector is ever going to truly embrace digital.
Effective leadership needs to be the starting point. The charities taking part in our action learning sets have embraced change because they’ve got passionate, effective leaders. Senior leaders and trustees can no longer rely on junior staff to make key strategic decisions about digital. It’s not just about social media, it’s not just about the server that sits in your cupboard and it’s not just about your fundraising database. This is about looking at what you do with a fresh pair of eyes, experimenting and empowering staff and service users – it needs to be about real culture change. It’s about seeing the transformational potential of digital service delivery.
For many organisations all of this leads to one fundamental question: is your chief executive or chair ready to fundamentally reassess how you do things in light of the potential offered by digital?
Charities need a new relationship with technology. Let’s end the age of the giant IT infrastructure system and aim to get to the point where IT becomes invisible.
We need to ensure all decisions we make are based upon effective use of data. We need to be geared up to spot societal trends. It’s vital that we respond quickly to the needs of our communities and we need to be able to truly measure the impact we have.
We need to move away from seeing data as a tool to win and report on funding, it’s about delivering the best services we can, when and where people need them.
Funding is going to be key to all of this. That doesn’t necessarily mean more tech-focused niche funding streams. In fact it would be much more productive if funders simply encouraged more people to make digital-first grant applications to mainstream funding streams. That’s probably going to mean training grants officers to assess projects where digital is key, and we need more funders challenging charities to think about where digital can improve outcomes.
Alongside the OneDigital team, I’m currently working on a charity senior leaders’ digital call to action. This will be a blueprint for change, shaped by those taking part in the action learning programme. Hopefully this will kick-start a wider conversation about the need for effective leadership, culture change, flexible technology, smarter funding, and collaborative data. Less strategy, more doing.
Ross McCulloch is the founder of Be Good Be Social training and events, as well as Director of Third Sector Lab – a digital media agency working exclusively with charities, housing associations and social enterprises. He has worked with a wide range of clients, including Relationships Scotland, SCVO, Oxfam Scotland, Enable Scotland and Breakthrough Breast Cancer. Ross also sits on Foundation Scotland’s Impact and Innovation Committee and is Chair of Comic Relief’s Community Cash Glasgow funding panel.
This article was authored by Zoe Amar for the building boards for a digital age campaign.
Many charities have a growing awareness of the importance of digital, even if they are at the early stages of adoption. However, if your charity feels that the board isn’t aware of the burning need to use digital more strategically, they are not alone.
McKinsey’s 2015 digital study found that nearly half of the respondents’ CEOs sponsored digital initiatives (rising from 23 percent in 2012), with CEOs often seen as leading the digital agenda. In contrast, boards are far behind: just 17 per cent of respondent boards sponsored digital initiatives. Yet owning digital at board level is vital for sustainability and growth. The same study found that 35 per cent of boards at high performing organisations sponsored digital programmes.
The fact is that organisational and digital strategy are merging into one and if your board hasn’t considered the opportunities and risks that digital represents to your charity then it will be at a significant disadvantage.
Just look at Cancer Research UK and its involvement in the #nomakeupselfie campaign. If their board not been aware of the massive potential of fundraising on social media then their digital team would not have been empowered to seize the opportunity when it arose.
As a result, the charity went on to raise £8m in six days. Boards therefore need to identify the skills and knowledge gaps at trustee level so they are well positioned to adopt digital as part of their long term strategy. Ultimately, they must also be able to move swiftly to seize the golden chances offered by digital as well as able to manage risks. Here is our advice on how to ensure you have the right skills on your board to do all of the above.
For this to be effective you will need to talk frankly to your executive team about how they think digital could help your charity achieve its strategy. This doesn’t mean that digital should be a bolt on. Go back to your corporate objectives- even when they are not ostensibly relevant to going online- and discuss how digital could help achieve all of them. You’ll also need the context on where charities working in the same space are using digital, and how this fits into wider trends.
If you need support with a discrete, hands on project, e.g. a new customer relationship management (CRM) system, then you might be more effectively supported by getting help from a consultant or someone who can commit to a piece of labour intensive pro bono work. Some charities even have digital advisory boards but you must ensure that this doesn’t keep digital in a silo at trustee level. It is also vital to consider what stage your charity is at with digital. For example, if you are about to embark on digital transformation ideally you should recruit a trustee with some experience of this.
Whether you use an agency or simply advertise, think carefully about what you want from your digital trustee, and take the time to find the right person. Two areas which are often overlooked are: does this person have the gravitas and management or leadership experience to amplify their digital skills? And do they have the ability to influence and take people with them as the charity adapts to digital as a new way of working?
Obviously you should be doing these regularly, but do you include digital skills in this? In my experience as a trustee, generally skills audits can be very broad, assessing experience, understanding and development needs in a big picture way. Digital is now huge, and its remit includes everything from communications to fundraising to back office functions. One easy way to solve this problem is to undertake a stand alone digital skills audit for boards, with a follow up session to talk through results. Ultimately, chairs need to take responsibility for the learning and development needs of individual trustees in this area.
In my experience, many charities attempt to solve a problem like digital by hiring a digital trustee. But the day that the successful candidate walks into their first board meeting is just the beginning of the journey, not the end. As with any new role, the other trustees and the charity will need to change and involve the digital trustee actively in that. As part of this, boards should look at how they can adapt to the speed at which decisions must be made in the digital age.
Boards should also have an in-depth conversation about what level of risk they are comfortable with (Deloitte Digital recently published findings which showed that digitally mature organisations have a higher appetite for risk). They must ask themselves how they can make the most of the digital trustee’s expertise whilst ensuring they don’t overstep the mark by becoming too operational. And, as digital done right involves major change management, they must agree how they can support the trustee and executive through the challenges such a process will involve.
As you can see, there is much that boards need to consider when looking at how to make digital part of their strategy and ensuring that the right skills are represented at board level. By following the advice above you’ll be able to get your charity off on the right foot with digital and help it get great results.
Zoe Amar is one of the sector’s leading experts on digital. She heads up digital agency Zoe Amar Communications. Zoe also has eight years’ experience as a trustee and sits on the board of The Foundation for Training and Education in Care, as well as on the board audit and risk sub committee at The Samaritans as their digital expert.
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.
This article was first posted on the Institute of Fundraising blog on 16 August 2016.
Never has there been a more important moment for fundraisers to consider becoming a trustee. The Institute of Fundraising’s own recent research has highlighted the vital need for fundraising expertise on Boards. And we at Reach Volunteering know of many charities looking for this expertise.
Joining a Board might be about making that mental leap from hands on fundraiser to a different kind of leadership and governance. Does it seem daunting? Do you have time?
Our experience of recruiting skills-based volunteers shows us some of the best qualified candidates hesitate when faced with the idea of a completely new context. Don’t. Your expertise and experience in the charity sector will be hugely valuable to another charity. There are also plenty of support and resources out there. Trustee roles do vary in terms of time commitment, but you can choose the kind of opportunity and organisation that’s right for you.
As a trustee, you will see first-hand how decisions are made at Board Level and put your growing leadership and governance skills to good use. You will undoubtedly bring back learning and knowledge to your day job that will support your career progression in the long term. What better way to demonstrate that you have the skills for promotion?
This is a chance to share with others your talent for raising funds. If you’ve had a career break or are considering a new direction, this might also be the perfect way to put your skills to work.
There’s probably no need to tell fundraisers about the value of supporting a charity – you do that every day! But it is worth saying that skills-based volunteering like trusteeship is making a difference to charities across the country right now.
Volunteers are supporting a range of local, national and international causes in health & wellbeing, the arts, the environment, to name a few. This is also a great way to support a cause in your local community, and one of the many small to medium charities that make up the majority of our sector.
So, where do you find a role? Reach Volunteering is the single biggest source of trustees for the voluntary sector in the UK. First, you need three or more year’s experience to register with us. And you do need to register. Don’t be discouraged by the questions – it won’t take long and we find that going through the process means we make better matches. We placed 506 volunteers in 309 charities last year alone – so it does work.
We estimate that the total value of the skills transferred to the sector by our volunteers was £7.3m last year – you could make that figure even higher and build your career at the same time.
What are you waiting for?
On Tuesday 21 April, I had the opportunity to find out more about becoming a trustee at a free participatory workshop led by Reach and hosted by Team London and Greater London Volunteering.
On a lovely crisp sunny day overlooking the banks of the River Thames, delegates were ushered into one of the committee rooms at City Hall to hear from TrusteeWorks Manager, Luke Strachan and Reach CEO, Janet Thorne.
After a brief introduction by Team London’s Stephanie Kamin and GLV’s James Banks, Luke and Janet began their presentation on “An Introduction to Trusteeship with Insights into governance in the voluntary sector” which covered:
Luke explained that 50% of Reach’s work was based on trustees. With an estimated 169,000 charities in the UK and Wales, research says about 48% of charities have a vacancy on their board and that less than 5% of people are aware of trusteeship as a way to support a charity. How good charities are depends on the board who set the tone and culture. The board makes sure the charity is steering in the right direction, being true to why it was set up in the first place, and that it is continuing to be sustainable.
“Trustees are reliant on the CEO giving them the relevant information on the company,” added Janet. She also made the point that the role can really vary: “If it’s a small organisation, you may well be expected to do more hands-on stuff. A trustee may take their governing hat off to roll up their sleeves to be a marketeer.” It was agreed that as long as one was upfront and honest when recruiting a trustee to the board, expecting a trustee to do more was fine.
Janet then went on to develop the concept of a critical friend, in terms of the amount of support a board of trustees could give to the CEO and leadership team. A rather interesting discussion followed in which she revealed that trustees could be placed into 4 categories.
Janet expanded on the above terms discussing the amount of support a board could give to the CEO or leadership team. A fellow participant made the point that their board had a mixture of trustees, with people spread across all 4 camps!
A very spirited conversation then ensued on the topic of Risk vs Innovation with participants submitting examples of the different types of risk that may derail one’s role as a trustee.
On the question of what makes a great board of trustees in terms of dealing with risk, “It’s really to do with who is round the table,” said Janet. “If there is a very risk averse board, you need to get fresher blood in. It can also be a problem if everyone is from similar backgrounds, for example if you have a board full of people from large corporations. If you have a freelancer or someone from a charity background, the conversation changes. You need people who are cautious but also people who can take risk in their stride”.
At the end of the workshop there was a strategic problem-solving exercise. It was interesting to hear the solutions of the delegates who were divided into 4 groups and posed with different scenarios on how trustees might solve potential problems. I fortuitously ended up joining a group where I could relate to the challenge presented – the difficulties a board member might face from a board opposed to change if she were female and from ‘an ethnic minority.’
“The beauty of this session was that there was no right or wrong answer” said Luke. “It was simply pitting together all their life skills, people skills and experience gained from different professions. A real taster of what it would be like being on a real board.”
So why be a trustee?
Luke made an impassioned speech about becoming a trustee. I discovered that being a trustee is in fact a real insight into how an organisation works. You get to know how all the different departments come together. On the trustee challenge at the end of the presentation, Luke added, “Many of the problems required skills-based answers. It’s about people working together. There are things that are intuitively garnered. By and large, being a trustee is about people.”
On sources of support for trustees, Janet explained that the LinkedIn group UK Charity Trustees (which is co-managed by Reach and SCC) has a constant supply of questions, insights and information for trustees. Janet also referred to the Code of Good Governance which is a useful resource for a board to review itself. Other sources of support include the Charity Commission, CASS CCE, NPC, NCVO, The Association of Chairs and the Honorary Treasurers’ Forum.
“At Reach,” Janet concluded, “We believe a trustee role is about a mutual fit, so recruitment is a two-way conversation between the charity and the prospective trustee. Most charities approach it this way.”
Judging from the reaction of the delegates, with whom I had the pleasure of speaking to and from the general bonhomie that followed, the event struck exactly the right notes. As a marketing volunteer who prior to the workshop had no interest in becoming a trustee, I am now considering it. Perhaps that’s the best feedback!