‘Charities have historically struggled to plug the skills gap in south Wales’
THE one million trustees, supporting almost 200,000 charities across the UK, help to make the UK the sixth most giving country in the world. With Trustees’ Week (November 13-17, 2017) upon us, Sarah Case, director at advisory firm Broomfield & Alexander, offers her experience on what makes a good trustee, the importance of financial skills and how individuals, as well as charities, can benefit from the experience.
It depends what charities are looking for. It can be difficult if charities are seeking a trustee with a particular skill set.
Across the board in south Wales, charities have historically struggled to plug the skills gap, and there are various reasons for it, including the fact that we’re a relatively small region and because being a trustee can be rather time-consuming, which prevents large numbers of people from coming forward and volunteering.
We work with a lot of charities and it feels like the most asked question is, “Do you know anybody that would like to be a trustee?”
It’s important to recognise that it isn’t always enough to have your heart in the right place.
While passion is a must, trustees need to be able to bring more to the table.
There are a whole host of things that make a good trustee. Many, for example, will have been recruited for their specific skill set, like finance or marketing for example, but a good trustee also brings with them other life and business skills – such as communication, negotiation, leadership – as well as personal experience, which all helps in informing the decision-making process.
It’s crucial that trustees understand their responsibilities and keep up to date with guidance from the Charities Commission, as this can be an area where charities fall down.
The basics really matter when you’re a trustee, though, even down to turning up on time and ensuring that the paperwork for meetings is properly read.
Trustees, and the charities that they represent, benefit when people are positively engaged at meetings – asking questions and scrutinising the work of senior officers in an atmosphere of transparency.
A difference of opinion isn’t necessarily a bad thing, so long as the challenge is constructive.
They are important skills, but you don’t have to be an accountant. What you do need is to make sure that your understanding of finance is enough to satisfy yourself – it’s effectively self-due diligence.
If your financial skills aren’t a strong point, it’s all the more important that you have confidence in the treasurer, and that he or she is giving enough detail when reporting on figures and can demonstrate a good job is being done. Paying attention to financial reports – written and verbally – is key.
We almost always begin with a skills audit, which looks at what skills are needed on the board of trustees and how many people are being sought.
We recommend that charities are specific with potential trustees about what the commitment involves, in order that people know exactly what they are taking on, for example, how many meetings will be held per month or whether there are any specific initiatives that their help will be needed with.
It’s important to be open-minded about diversity, too. It’s sometimes unavoidable, but in general, it isn’t healthy for a charity to have a board of trustees made up of entirely the same people.
Having a diverse range of people around the table really enhances the quality of decisions that are made.
Absolutely. The trustees that really make a difference are those who do more than just the regular meetings and take an active interest in what’s going on – being willing to give more time can make the world of difference. It’s important, of course, that trustees recognise the boundary between their role and that of the day-to-day management of any charity, but getting involved where you can, and really understanding what is being delivered, adds a depth to the relationship that might otherwise be difficult to create.
DO CHARITIES FIND IT HARD TO RECRUIT TRUSTEES IN YOUR EXPERIENCE? WHAT MAKES A GOOD TRUSTEE? ARE GOOD FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT SKILLS IMPORTANT IN A TRUSTEE? WHAT ADVICE DO YOU GIVE TO CHARITIES IN TERMS OF RECRUITING TRUSTEES? HAVE YOU SEEN EXAMPLES OF TRUSTEES WHO HAVE REALLY MADE A DIFFERENCE TO THE SUCCESS OF A CHARITY? WHAT DOES AN INDIVIDUAL GET OUT OF BECOMING A TRUSTEE?
The stand-out benefit has got to be the sense of satisfaction that comes from giving something back and making a positive difference.
Depending on the charity, this could mean helping adults or children living in poverty, improving the lives of sick or vulnerable people or tackling cruelty to humans or animals.
However, people who have some of the skills that charities are looking for shouldn’t just consider these opportunities for altruistic reasons. If you are passionate about the cause and you have the time, then working as a trustee can also help to broaden your experience. It can bring you into contact with other like-minded people who may end up being helpful to you in a professional capacity – and it looks pretty good on your CV too.
> Sarah Case, charities and not-for-profit director at Broomfield & Alexander, offers her experience on what makes a good trustee
> It’s crucial that trustees keep up to date with guidance from the Charities Commission