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  • Writer's picturePaul Findlay

Tips and tricks for the trustee-in-training | Trustees' Week Feature

Paul Findlay, Director of Charities

The 6-10 November marks National Trustees' Week: an opportunity to place a spotlight on the unsung heroes who make charitable work possible in the UK. Trustees are the backbone of their organisation, offering direction, purpose, expertise, and governance. Across the third sector, we are lucky to be surrounded by so many incredible people, who each choose to give up their time to support a cause close to their heart.

I became a trustee to gain board-level experience, after my CEO suggested I develop strategic insight. As a veteran myself, I feel strongly about providing adequate housing for those transitioning out of the military, as I know first-hand the struggle of assimilating without proper support. Joining the board of Haig Housing Trust allowed me to advocate for my fellow veterans effectively. My subsequent roles with Health Watch Essex, Building Heroes, and The EPIC Restart Foundation have been equally rewarding, offering me many experiences that have propelled my personal and professional journey forward.

If that didn’t seal the deal for you, here are six other reasons why becoming a trustee will be one of the best decisions you’ll make this year!

1. Making a positive impact: Trustees play a crucial role in advancing the mission of the charity and contributing to positive change in society. By serving as a trustee, you have the opportunity to make a meaningful difference in the lives of your beneficiaries.

2. Personal fulfilment: Many people find great personal satisfaction and a sense of purpose in helping others and contributing to a cause they are passionate about.

3. Skill development: Serving as a trustee isn’t just an act of altruism. It can help you develop a wide range of skills, including leadership, diplomacy, decision-making, strategic planning, financial management, and governance. These skills can be incredibly valuable in both your personal and professional life.

4. Networking opportunities: Trustees often have the chance to network with other like-minded individuals, professionals, and experts in various fields, which can lead to new connections and collaborations.

5. Learning opportunities: Being a trustee allows you to gain insight into the inner workings of a charitable organisation, including its programmes, finances, and governance. This can be a great learning experience.

6. Increased community involvement: Serving as a trustee deepens your involvement in your community or the cause you are passionate about, allowing you to connect with others who share your interests.

A few light-hearted tips for the trustee-in-training

  1. Expect a wild ride from day one: If your induction to trusteeship felt like being given a map in ancient Greek, you're not alone. The first order of business? Clarify your role, and don't be afraid to ask the obvious questions, even the ones you perceive as silly. Chances are, someone else will be asking themselves the same thing!

  2. Boardroom dynamics: Yes, you might encounter the occasional quirky character in the boardroom. Practice empathy and keep your sense of humour close (it's often what can get you through long meetings).

  3. Keep the passion burning: It's easy to let the fire die down after the initial excitement. Stay fierce, stay curious, and stay true to the reason why you joined in the first place. That fire in your belly? It's your best accessory.

  4. The dance of diplomacy: It's true that trustees can be too nice, tip-toeing around the tough conversations. But what's a dance without a few daring steps? Enter conversations with honesty and conviction, but also with kindness.

  5. Time investment: Whoever said being a trustee is a two-hour monthly gig was selling fairy tales. Brace yourself for the time commitment, but the rewards will more than make up for it.

  6. Do the homework: If the pre-meeting reading were a book, it wouldn't be a bestseller, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it. Save yourself (and others!) from some face-palm moments and come prepared.

  7. Shake up the meeting monotony: We’ve all sat through those meetings. The ones that are as interesting as watching paint dry, and take twice as long. Spice it up with efficiency and a zest for swift, sound decision-making.

  8. The ego checkpoint: Remember, you're there for the charity's mission, not for a round of 'Who's the most important/experienced/has the loudest voice in the room'. Leave any hint of an ego at the door.

  9. Conflict resolution: When disputes arise, lace up your peacekeeper boots and remember, the aim is to serve those who benefit from the charity's work, not win an argument.

  10. The joy of teamwork: If you're ready to lend your talents, support one another, face the odd challenge with a 'can-do' attitude (and a sense of humour), then you’ve come to the right place.

Employers, I can’t stress enough how important it is to encourage and empower your staff to join the trustee ranks. Not only will they aid a noble cause, but they'll also gain so many valuable skills that will enrich your workplace. So, here's to all prospective trustees — may your meetings be lively, your reading thorough, and your impact profound!

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