One of the main purposes of Trustees’ Week, which takes place every November, is to raise awareness of opportunities for people from all walks of life to consider taking on the vitally important volunteering role of trusteeship in a charity or a community organisation.
When people think of offering their time as a volunteer, becoming a trustee to help steer an organisation is not usually the role that springs to mind first, and yet there are lots of voluntary and community sector organisations out there that are desperate for new trustees with a variety of skills.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic many thousands of people offered their time as volunteers, perhaps for the first time in their lives, to help support those most vulnerable in our communities by delivering food parcels and prescriptions or ferrying the elderly and disabled to hospital appointments etc. When the need for such immediate support wanes and the focus begins to shift towards rebuilding rather than simply reacting, many of these new volunteers are likely to find they have been bitten by the volunteering bug and will want to look for new ways they can donate their time.
So this blog is for those who might be open to considering volunteering in the role of trusteeship, even if the thought has never before crossed their mind.
Trustees in Northumberland
We estimate that there are in excess of 2,170 charitable organisations based in Northumberland, each one of which is steered by a board of trustees. In the run up to Trustees’ Week 2020, we carried out our own very small survey to ask how trustees in Northumberland feel about their role. 26 trustees responded to tell us what made them want to become a trustee, what they think are the most important attributes a trustee needs, and to offer advice for anyone thinking about becoming a trustee themselves.
Why people become trustees
42% of respondents told us it was their passion for the cause of their organisation that persuaded them to become a trustee, so if there’s a cause you feel particularly passionate about and if there’s an organisation locally that addresses that cause, whether that be campaigning for the environment, providing support for people in poverty or with a particular disease or health condition, saving the whale or researching local history, then that’s a great place to start looking for trustee opportunities.
27% of respondents simply wanted to make a difference, while 8% wanted to use their skills for good and 4% took on the role in order to help them develop new skills. The boards of all voluntary and community organisations need a variety of skills to keep moving ahead, and many people looking for a new volunteering role may already possess those that are most sought after. So if you’re skilled in managing money, in business strategy, or marketing and communications, if you have secretarial, PR, or digital development experience, or a well developed knowledge of your particular community or work sector, there are trustee opportunities out there that are exactly right for you.
Their most important attributes
The skills we’ve talked about so far have mostly been hard objective skills that have been learnt and developed mainly through education and work experience. We also asked trustees to list the most important attributes, or soft skills, a trustee will need in their arsenal. These are more subjective and difficult to quantify, and not something easily evidenced through certificates and diplomas or CVs.
The highest scoring attribute was that of a commitment to the purpose, objects and values of your organisation (29%), followed by being prepared to make difficult collective decisions and stand by them and the ability to analyse information and, when necessary, challenge constructively (both 21%). The ability to respect boundaries between operational and strategic functions scored 14%, while being a good listener and being non-judgemental came in at 8% and 6% respectively. If some of these attributes ring a bell with you, you are admirably suited to becoming a trustee.
And of course, the role of trustee offers great opportunities to develop new skills that can help progress your career, such as strategic development, critical thinking, problem-solving and analytical skills, as well as team working skills.
So, you’re considering becoming a trustee and you now have a good idea about the sort of causes you could commit to and the skills you could offer.
Advice from trustees on becoming a trustee
The last question we asked in our survey was “What one piece of advice would you give to someone thinking about becoming a trustee?” Based on the responses we received, here are some tips to keep in mind if before you take the plunge:
1: Be clear about what’s involved
Trustees are responsible for governing their organisation to ensure it carries out its purposes for the public benefit and managing its resources to that effect. The decisions they are called upon to make as a team can impact on people’s lives, so it’s a big responsibility. Read the Charity Commission guidance on what’s involved before taking on the role.
2: Find the right opportunity
As we’ve seen above, for some this is about finding a cause they can be passionate about, while for others its more about using their skills to make a difference more generally. You can find a range of trustee opportunities in Northumberland listed on our website and in our fortnightly e-bulletin (sign up via our homepage), and also along with general volunteering opportunities on our interactive Volunteer Connect database.
Of course, if you have a charity in mind, but you’re not aware of any trustee vacancies, you could always give them a call, or send in you CV with a covering letter to let them know you’re available and theirs is the cause you want to support.
3: Understand the organisation
Find out how the organisation works. Look at their website, read and reread the governing document until you understand it thoroughly. Meet the people, not just the trustees and the CEO, but ask if you can meet the staff and volunteers too, and ask lots of questions. Until you understand how the organisation works, how will you know what it is you’re taking on?
4: Don’t overcommit
Before you make your decision, be clear on how much time you’ll be expected to commit in an average month, and then add on some more so you know you’ll always have the capacity to cope with unexpected demands on your time and energy when it comes to steering your organisation through a crisis, live COVID-19.
And of course you must always be prepared to give that time and effort.
5. Go for it!
The respondents to our survey were quite clear that, once you’ve checked out all the previous points and know you can fulfil the role to the best of your ability, you should follow your instincts, get involved and use your skills for the benefit of your chosen organisation. Go for it.
As one respondent said, “Give it a try; it will surprise you!”
Information & Communications Officer