Blog: New Year's resolution #1: Become a charity trusteeby
In his Autumn Statement this week, Chancellor George Osborne announced that the UK economy is set to shrink by a worse than expected 0.1% this year.
So with an uncertain business climate ahead, businesses will need to work more smartly than ever to ensure that their employees are productive and engaged during 2013. One option for employers looking to develop employee performance, however, is to encourage them to volunteer as trustees. As well as contributing to corporate social responsibility activity, trusteeships can help boost staff morale and productivity by giving people the opportunity to gain valuable experience and skills in areas ranging from setting strategic goals to accounting and financial planning. We recently conducted a survey of more than 1,200 trustees in order to understand why people go down this route as well as the barriers and challenges that they face. The research revealed that the top three reasons were ‘to give something back’ (55%); to improve professional development (33%) and because they were committed to a given charity’s cause (30%). But respondents also pointed out that they often didn’t know how to go about becoming a trustee or where opportunities existed. As a result, they suggested that charities needed to do more to promote their vacancies. According to the Charity Commission, an estimated one in five of the UK’s 180,000 charities has a vacancy on their board, which highlights the fact that they are struggling to reach new trustees. The lack of boardroom diversity is another problem. Young people, women and people from ethnic backgrounds are all underrepresented – a fact that many organisations would like to change, not least to gain access to a wider variety of skills. Serious commitment However, it is important to note that being a trustee is hard work and requires a serious commitment. They are ultimately responsible for everything that a charity does and can be held legally accountable for the decisions made. Consequently, we urge people to understand the liabilities involved and to undertake due diligence and research into target organisations before they accept a role. The interview stage is particularly important as it provides an opportunity for candidates to obtain the necessary information in order to ensure that they are making the right decision. Here are some possible questions to ask at interview stage and before you accept a post:
- Be clear about the rules and responsibilities that you are taking on – who are the decision-makers and who aren’t?
- What is the organisation’s leadership style?
- What are its strategic direction and business objectives?
- What resources does it have at its disposal, ranging from any land that it owns to intellectual property and trademarks?
- What training and induction processes are offered to new trustees?
- What time commitment will be expected (each charity is different)?
Also bear in mind that:
- Every charity will have a governance document containing rules by which trustees must abide. Ensure that you see this from the outset as it is your duty to comply and you be held responsible if you do not
- Remember that, as a trustee, it is your duty to put the charity before other commitments so you will need to put it first if there is a crisis or urgent need
- Understand who the beneficiaries of the charity are as it will be here that the organisation’s loyalty lies
- Be careful about what ‘collective’ board decisions are made. If you do not agree with a decision, you must register your dissent. Read the minutes if you are not able to make a meeting as it is your duty and responsibility to ensure that you have your say.
Although all of these factors need to be considered carefully, there are huge benefits and rewards in becoming a trustee. UK charities are crying out for talent and many are keen to attract people from diverse backgrounds, young and old, in order to inject energy and fresh ideas into their boardrooms. But how does this situation benefit employers? For starters, the experience and skills that your employees can obtain by going down this path could also help to inject energy and fresh ideas into your business. As we enter 2013, employers will be looking for cost-effective ways to invest in staff development - and this could just prove an ideal route to take. Ian Joseph is chief executive of trustee and non-executive director provider, Trustees Unlimited, and managing director of interim management recruitment agency, Russam GMS' charities and not-for-profit business.
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