I’ve written blogs before on what becoming a charity trustee can potentially do for your career, so it was interesting to read an article in a recent Evening Standard (Monday 27 October) about the career-boosting benefits of becoming a trustee – but the article was a little light in content, pretty one-sided and a teeny-weeny bit misleading. It implied that anybody, anywhere can just pop into a local charity, tell them that they want to become a trustee and after volunteering a couple of hours every few months, hey presto! They’ll be promoted at work! Hmmm…if it were that easy, we’d all be doing it!

Still, at least the rose-tinted article raised the subject of trustees (even though it never mentioned the risks) just in time for Trustees’ Week. This yearly event takes place in a couple of weeks’ time, from November 10– 16, and since the I Am Group are huge supporters of Trustees’ Week, we run one of our trustee matching events to specifically coincide with the week.

“Pale, male and stale” is the epithet often applied to your typical trustee: average age 57, two-thirds of whom are aged 50 and over, and 56% of whom are male, according to the latest findings. Of the 180,000 registered charities, almost half have a vacancy on their trustee board, which means nearly 90,000 vacancies throughout the country…but don’t be fooled by the Disneyesque gloss that the Evening Standard puts on trustee volunteering; whilst it might be incredibly rewarding it is also hard work and requires commitment! After all, if it were easy, there probably wouldn’t be so many vacancies.

Commitment

So what can you expect to give in terms of commitment, as a trustee? Naturally this will vary from charity to charity, and other factors such as the nature and size of the organisation, the number of other trustees the charity has, the scope of your ‘role’ and your own time constraints. You might find that as a trustee, you will be expected to sit on other committees, represent the organisation at events or even ply a more active role within the organisation. For example, a human resources expert might also become involved in the charity’s recruitment strategy, especially if the charity lacks in-house knowledge or skills, and even be expected to recommend candidates for shortlisting or sit in on interview panels for more senior appointments.

There is also a secondary aspect to the role of a trustee, which is now widely promoted. Paul Marvell of the Institute of Fundraising writes excellent blogs, one of which is on this particular subject. In his article, Proud to be a Fundraising Trustee, Paul explains that he sees his role as “not just providing leadership, advice and governance, but also supporting the charity to fundraise.” The implication is clear; trustees have a duty to help promote their charity, raise funds and garner support – so think twice if you’re uncomfortable with this aspect of the role.

If you have plenty of time on your hands, and want to become more involved, you might also consider joining a charity where there are greater opportunities to be included in the day-to-day work, especially if the charity is still in its start-up phase – so think carefully what commitment you can offer before approaching an organisation, and ask yourself if you’re the best person for the role.

Considerations

The Evening Standard’s article did not really delve deeply into the responsibilities of becoming a trustee. One of the most valuable lessons I learned early on, when I first became a charity trustee, is that you (collectively, as a board, but also as individuals) need the financial competency required to be running an organisation the size of the charity. For example, if your charity turns over £2million per annum, do you have the necessary skills to run it? If you don’t you might want to think twice about what you do bring to the table, since there are certain legal responsibilities to consider carefully before signing up. More on this is available on the gov.uk website.

It’s not all plain sailing…a cautionary tale!

We were recently engaged by the board of a small London-based charity to manage the recruitment process of a New CEO. It turned out to be anything but straightforward, for a number of reasons, and during the process the entire board resigned or were forced out by the existing chief executive. The trustees, some of whom were entirely blameless, some of whom acknowledged they could have handled the situation better, were – for the most part – exceptionally skilled and qualified professionals, including a banker, an entrepreneur, an IT and operations expert. All talented managers and individuals whose departure left that particular charity rudderless and drifting in uncertain waters.

Benefits

Much is made of the benefits of becoming a trustee – but do they really stack up? Well, even putting aside what the Charity Commission and other ‘trustee-promoting’ organisations might tell you, as a recruiter, I can think of no better way of showing your commitment to the charity sector, gaining invaluable skills, and operating at a senior level.

For any potential candidates, who are considering moving into the charity sector for the first time, voluntary work is an important aspect to highlight on a CV, and a trusteeship is considered to be one of the highest forms of charity volunteering.

Even as a budding entrepreneur, or manager, becoming a trustee can teach you valuable lessons to use in your own business or career, and I think that the relationship between trusteeships and careers can be both intricately entwined, and should be mutually beneficial.

Finally, younger candidates really shouldn’t be put off from becoming trustees, despite the average age being 57. Just 0.5% of trustees are aged between 18-24, and I can’t think of a better way to stand out from amongst your peers, and demonstrate your maturity whilst also gaining invaluable experience, contacts and growth!

Next steps

I’ve added links to many of the useful sites – but you can read all you want: there’s no substitute for talking to people about what it’s like to become a trustee, meeting with representatives from charities and talking to them about any trustee vacancies they might have and the commitments they require.

Trustees’ Week is the perfect opportunity to find out more about what becoming a trustee can do for you and your career – and as I previously mentioned, we’re running one of our trustee matching events on Tuesday, November 11 to specifically coincide with the week. Why not come and join us?