You don’t need to be a paid-up club member of the great and the good to be a trustee
When I worked in the commercial sector I often found myself searching for a way to ‘do some good’ as I rather vaguely termed it to myself. Then when I was furloughed and volunteered at a local food bank I started to come to the realisation that, as well as front line volunteering, my considerable strategic skills could be useful in the third sector.
Starting work at Getting On Board, trustee recruitment and diversity charity was brilliantly fortuitous and it set me on the path to trusteeship. I gained my first trusteeship a few months later; this November marks my first anniversary as a trustee of a literacy charity.
I would have loved to know more about trusteeship when I worked in the commercial sector but I had no clear idea of what it involved or even how I might find out.
You don’t need ‘special’ skills to be a trustee
Both in my role as Getting on Board’s Communications Director and in my everyday life, I’m on a mission to demystify trusteeship for ‘ordinary folk’. There’s not a single social setting where I won’t start jabbering about how brilliant being a trustee is. I’m happy to say I’ve converted quite a few people (though if I’m honest, a few people have fled in the opposite direction at parties!).
If you already work in the charity sector you probably have at least a hazy idea about what trusteeship is, but I’m willing to guess that for many charity workers it still feels out of reach. Trusteeship often feels like something that other people with ‘special’ skills can mysteriously attain but which remains out of reach for ordinary folk.
But here’s the secret: you don’t need to be a paid-up club member of the great and the good to be a trustee—in fact you’re often a better trustee if you aren’t. Don’t ever be held back from applying for a trustee role you’d love to do because you think your CV isn’t long and illustrious.
The question of who can be a trustee is less about experience and more about values. So instead, focus on whether you have these three important values that are the cornerstone of being a good trustee.
Important values for being a trustee
The old adage of ‘no such thing as a stupid question’ is never truer than in a boardroom. So much of what happens on boards is because ‘we’ve always done it that way’. Sometimes just asking ‘why’ is the best way to usher new thinking.
Trusteeship is a volunteer role but it’s still work. Approach it with the same level of commitment as you would a paid job, not a sometime hobby. People are depending on you bringing your ‘A’ game, so choosing a cause or a purpose you’re passionate about makes it all the more likely you’ll turn it out.
‘A very thin skin stretched over a very large ego’ was how a colleague once described a Very Important Person in our acquaintance. There’s no place for that in a boardroom. Conflict is sometimes necessary to get the best result in a discussion, but when trustees approach it with humility rather than ego, the charity reaps the benefit.
Diversity is important on boards of trustees
Being a trustee is one of the best things I’ve done. Working in the third sector has been useful for that, but often it’s the other strands of my wiggly career path that has flowed through roles in comms, schools and journalism that really adds value. And I’ve gained much in return. Trusteeship has been brilliant for building my leadership skills and strengthening my strategic thinking.
Charities need—and benefit from—diverse trustees. That means more people with a wider range of skills, knowledge and lived experience than are currently represented on boards.
So, who can be a trustee? The answer is almost anyone. So it’s definitely worth taking a closer look—whatever your day job!
Fiona McAuslan is Getting on Board's Communications Director. This article originally appeared on the Charity Jobs website
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