Safeguarding charities’ future

By Matilda Macduff 7 March 2012

Trustees are the hidden side of a charity that you don’t often hear about—but they are crucial to its success. Only 5% of respondents in a 2006 survey knew that they could contribute to a charity by volunteering as a trustee.  But almost half of UK charities have a vacancy on their board, so there is a definite need for people to step up.

Trusteeship does suffer from a communication problem. People think they have to be old, retired, or vastly experienced in finance or law to interest charities. But misconceptions like this could be stopping many people getting onto charity boards. NPC’s latest report, The benefits of trusteeship, outlines the enormous value trusteeship can bring through the eyes of those involved. We hope it can inform people about what being a trustee is really like, and encourage more people to give it a go.

So what does trusteeship mean to the people we spoke to? Read on to find out…

‘Volunteering makes me a better person’.

Alan Mak is a 28-year-old solicitor, and a trustee of the charity Magic Breakfast—he became a trustee because he feels we all have an obligation to contribute to society, particularly our local communities. But he also benefits from being a trustee—through the sense of satisfaction from his work with the charity, but also in his day job. ‘I get a chance to use and enhance my decision-making, project management and strategic thinking skills. Plus it makes me a more rounded employee’, Alan tells us. His employer, global law firm Clifford Chance, has been very supportive of his role as a trustee, and his volunteering is recognised in his appraisals.

‘Employees bring that energy back into the business’.

So why is it worth companies like Clifford Chance supporting employees to volunteer? BT’s volunteering department are working to support employees to become charity trustees. They see the benefits it brings from a different perspective—employees gain skills and confidence from their trustee role, which they can apply back at work. ‘Being a trustee requires real clarity of decision-making…and building consensus with people from a variety of backgrounds’, says Director of Volunteering Helen Simpson. Simpson says employees’ emotional intelligence increases, and they return with a different view of the importance of relationships. But most importantly, they get excited about the difference they are making, bringing that energy back to their day job and boosting the atmosphere in the office.

‘The trustees are the owners of the charity; they pass the baton on from generation to generation’.

For charities, trustees are an essential part of operations. They set the strategic direction of the charity, oversee its finances, and make sure it is fulfilling its charitable purpose. Trustees also help charities with networking, influencing and campaigning. They are mentors, and ambassadors too. Ciaran Devane, chief executive of Macmillan says a good relationship with trustees is crucial—speaking of the charity’s chair, Julia Palca, he says ‘She is the first person I pick up the phone to if there’s a problem’. Increasingly in the current economic climate, trustees are invaluable in guiding and safeguarding a charity through a difficult economy to ensure it can still make a difference to the lives of future generations.  

Convinced? You can find out all you need to know about becoming  trustee, including where to look for vacancies, in our new report, available to download for free here.