Trustees’ Week takes place next week. At its heart, it offers a chance to do two things: to celebrate trusteeship and to consider how we might improve our boards. Here Alex Swallow, Programme Director of the Charity Leaders’ Exchange, Assistant Editor of Good News Shared, and founder of Young Charity Trustees, introduces what it means to him.
Up and down the country, trustees give up their time to support charities of all sizes, causes and aims. It is a rewarding but sometimes thankless task—a role I tried to capture to the tune of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’ a few years ago.
Trustees’ Week is a chance to celebrate trusteeship publicly (both national and local media take a greater interest in trustees during this week than at any other point in the year) and privately (within each charity).
But Trustees’ Week also provides a good opportunity for us to consider and reflect: to ask ourselves some tough questions about how the board of our charity is operating. My own interest, through my organisation Young Charity Trustees, is in increasing board diversity. I have recorded a podcast to both encourage more young people to think about joining boards and to encourage charities to reach out to them.
Of course, age is only one form of diversity—there may be others you need to address. Is there diversity of opinion on your board, for example? Are you having real debates and do people feel empowered to speak their mind? Or much of the time do you feel like you are just rubberstamping things without contributing? Is the skills mix of your board right and when was the last time you did a skills audit for the trustees? What is the relationship like between the chair and the most senior member of staff, and is each getting enough support to carry out their duties?
You won’t get all aspects of governance right all the time. Trustees lead busy lives outside their board roles and charities are pushed for time, cash and other resources. Hopefully though, Trustees’ Week can serve as a useful time to pause and think about what is working at board level and what isn’t. It’s also a great time to recruit new trustees if you do decide that you need some.
I’ve been involved in the working group that helps coordinate Trustees’ Week for several years now, and every year I’ve watched it grow bigger and better, as more charities get involved and more people realise the value of good trustees. I’d really like it to go to the next level , so it becomes an opportunity for charities to get the message out about some of the brilliant work they do, and how their efforts are crucially supported by trustees and other dedicated volunteers.
If you would like to get involved, here are a range of resources that could help. You can also take part in a discussion on a topic you’re interested in by following live Q&As each day and using the #trusteesweek hashtag.