There are many benefits of being a trustee - but one stands out.

**Based on notes taken from Women on Boards Boardroom Insights: Charity Boards event, Sept 2019 **

Being a non-executive of a charity of any size is a great skills development opportunity. It can give you the edge when it comes to promotion in your ‘day job’. It is also a useful place to start building experience for other non-executive roles or even a portfolio career in the longer-term.

The three speakers at our Boardroom Insights evening in September did not focus on these reasons for joining a charity boards – valuable though they are. For our three speakers, it was a passion to make a difference which inspired them to become trustees.

For Cosette Reczek, her motivation came about after realising that in the longer term she wanted to be giving back though ‘teaching or mentoring’ activities. A trustee role at the Girls Day School Trust seemed a good match, particularly as she was a parent at one of their schools. Although she didn’t have the full skill set, she sent an application explaining what she could bring and why she was passionate about their work. She found her time on the board there hugely rewarding and has since moved on to be on the board for Unicef UK – which supports children worldwide.

Daniel Chan spoke of his desire to ensure all young people have the opportunities he has been privileged to enjoy. He joined the board of governors at a school in Peckham as he knew many young people in that area were socially disadvantaged. He has gone on to join the board at UK Youth, a charity whose impact is ‘inspirational’ through the youth clubs they support. Most recently, he has added his alma mater school to his non-executive roles. Daniel admits that three boards on top of his job at PwC is a big commitment, but he is passionate about making a difference.

Sonia Gayle’s personal experience led her to become a trustee. She promised herself that, if she survived the breast cancer she was being treated for, she would find a way to ‘give back’. The experience of being in need of support whilst unwell also showed her the value of the charity sector, which she admits she had seen as ‘rather sleepy’ before. Her intention was to undertake more front-line volunteering but found her skills – in risk and compliance – would be most useful as a trustee of Breast Cancer Care.

Why this focus on motivation? In the charity sector, where remuneration is modest, the passion to make a difference is the key currency. In fact, Charity Commission rules do not allow charity trustees to be paid for their work, even though the risk and responsibility can be significant. From the charity’s point of view, the guiding principle of their organisation needs to be one which is close to the hearts of those setting its strategic direction on the board. Trustees also need to have a passion for the cause for their own sake. As Cosette put it ‘the board papers will get boring after a while, so you better believe in what you’re doing’.

So if you’re considering a charity board role, first consider what you care about. Make sure you can evidence and express this commitment.

Perhaps yourself or a loved one has been affected by the problem the charity supports people with? (Whether it’s a health condition or an experience, such as domestic violence or homelessness). As Sonia mentioned, many charities actively prioritise those with first-hand experience of the issue.

Perhaps it’s a cause you have always been involved with in however small a way? If you enjoy a particular sport, you could bring your skills to its governing body or even a broader charity encouraging more active lifestyles.

Or is there a link with another of your passions and the charity’s aims? For example, does your love of hiking in nature inspire you to contribute your professional skills to an ecological cause?

Once you’ve identified your area, it is time to take Cosette’s advice to start putting yourself forward. Many of the larger charities advertise their trustee vacancies, but smaller ones may only openly recruit for Chair roles. It is worth contacting the smaller organisations to express your interest, in case of any other roles now or in future.

This article was inspired by one of Women of Boards Boardroom Insights evenings - informal chances to hear what really happens in the boardroom, and how to get there as well as connect with current and aspiring non-executives. See upcoming Boardroom Insights events. 

Success Stories