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What do charity trustees really want this Christmas?

It isn’t a fragranced candle or a bottle of wine

As the festive season hits us, the usual post of “What gifts should we get our trustees for Christmas?” is doing the rounds on charity discussion platforms.

I’ll save you a lot of bother by giving you the categorical answer of what you should get your trustees: nothing, nada, zilch.

Trustees don’t want presents. Why spend every board meeting talking about how tight the finances are, then spend some of that hard-earned cash on us?

So, what do trustees really want this Christmas?

Peace on earth

It sounds flippant, but trustees primarily want whatever their organisation was set up to do.

Which might actually be to promote world peace. It could also be to build better arts facilities in Bradford, to offer wheelchair basketball in Cardiff or to feed kids before school in Stoke. These are the things that motivate us.

Joy to the world

Trustees want to enjoy being a trustee. And what brings us enjoyment is feeling like we’re having a positive impact, clarity on what our role is, good relations with those around us, and being part of a team.

What doesn’t bring us joy is feeling surplus to requirements, or the not-so-wise-men around us fighting each other rather than concentrating on the job in hand.

Christmas is for giving

People become trustees to give, not to receive. But the wonder of trusteeship (and, indeed, of other forms of volunteering) is that the things we gain by default – looking beyond our own troubles, helping others, gaining deep understanding of our communities, developing new skills, meeting new people – all bring us immense personal joy and fulfilment.

Silent night

We’d like not to be kept awake at night stressing about the organisation. We want our organisation to thrive, to be in good financial health, to be making a difference in its field. These things will bring us comfort and joy.

Goodwill to all

Trustees want to feel valued, respected and heard. By each other. Sounds simple, but it’s a really tough part of this trustee gig to get the balance right between the extremes of being overly comfortable and being at loggerheads.

To govern well, we need to be able to have debates, to be able to challenge each others’ thinking, but for that to be kind and respectful.

However, many trustees feel sidelined, tokenised or silenced by their fellow trustees. It seems that good governance should be top of our Christmas list this year.

I’ll let Father Christmas know. I’m pretty sure he’s keen to have trustees on the nice list.

Last Christmas

We’d like to be able to leave our trustee role after a good run. Despite some suspicious indications to the contrary, most trustees don’t actually want to stay indefinitely.

We want to have a good innings and then entrust the organisation to the next group of capable trustees.

Mistletoe and wine

Many of us like a festive trustee meet-up. It’s important to spend time together beyond meetings to get to know each other, particularly in this world of online meetings.

This can be nicer than any gift. However, make sure any seasonal gatherings are accessible to everyone in terms of caring responsibilities, cost, practicalities and cultural restrictions (not everyone wants the wine, and certainly not the mistletoe).

An elfy appreciation (sorry…)

Trustees do actually like to be appreciated. We’re human, after all. However, an email or note of thanks from the chief executive, chair or a fellow trustee is worth many, many dodgy ties or iffy calendars.

We also love to see the fruits of our labours – send me impressive impact stats over a nailcare set any day of the week.

So, may you make spirits bright this Christmas by sparing your trustees the socks or bath salts, and perhaps sending them a quiet email of thanks in deepest, darkest January instead.

That is how you will make our spirits bright.

Penny Wilson is chief executive of Getting on Board. This article originally appeared in Third Sector magazine.

If you can't bear the thought of not getting your trustees anything, may we be so bold as to suggest you get them a box set recording of Getting on Board's core webinars? We think it's a gift that's guaranteed to be well received!


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