Asking the questions and leading the conversation was our panel chair Penny Wilson, CEO of Getting on Board. Sitting on the panel was Bronwen Edwards (Trustee, Baby Umbrella), Debra Allcock Tyler (CEO, DSC), Leesa Harwood (DSC Associate Trainer), and Rashid Iqbal (Executive Director, The Winch).
Before the panel began their discussion, Penny Wilson took us through some common trustee myths. They included:
- Trustees “manage” charities
- Most trustees work in large charities
- You have to apply to be a trustee
Question one: What do you love about being a trustee?
Bronwen told us that she personally loves sitting on an all-women board, meeting people she would not have met otherwise.
Debra informed us that being a trustee ‘teaches you to see the sector through a different lens.’ She explained that being in governance gives you a bird’s eye view of how charities run, helping you have a clearer perspective while working from within.
For Rashid, being a trustee is about routing himself ‘back into the spirit of volunteerism.’
Leesa cherishes working as a trustee for a small-to-medium-sized charity because ‘you get much closer to the front line.’
Question two: What are some of the challenges?
The panel agreed that, like most jobs, many challenges come with being a trustee – Debra even wrote a book about it!
Yet the most significant issue that they are currently witnessing is that some boards are still clearly sticking to the status quo and are reluctant to share their power. The four pannelists agreed on the need for change, although they recognised that it will, of course, take time.
That being said, the more people that we encourage and help apply to trusteeships, the more likely we are to have charity board members that represent all intersections of society.
Pannelists advice on the application process
- Look for openings that add to your CV and that you have less experience in. Challenge yourself; it can be a learning opportunity too!
- Find charities that you feel connected to; you’ll need that passion to drive you and your work
- Don’t be blinded by the brand or how big the charity is
- Before you write your application, start with a really a good conversation with the charity. Call them up and see if their values match yours. If they are not prepared to talk, rethink whether they are the right charity for you
Panellists advise for new trustees
- Pause to think, don’t rush solutions. You don’t always need to fix everything, especially not straight away
- Recognise when you should stay silent; you can’t always be the provider of answers
- It’s essential to know when it’s time to walk out of the door
- Read Debra’s book – It’s a Battle on the Board!
“If you experience imposter syndrome, remember, you’re not the problem, it doesn’t mean you don’t belong there, it just means that the space wasn’t designed for you.” –Rashid Iqbal.
“If you doubt yourself, that’s normal. If your someone who does doubt your skills and experience, that’s exactly what a board of trustees needs. If you don’t go for it, you’ll never get it. You haven’t lost anything. Just do it! What’s the worst that can happen?” – Debra Allcock Tyler
“Everyone has something to offer, life experience is enough. You won’t know some things, but you learn those things over time. You work, and you develop over time.” – Bronwen Edwards
“Make sure that the charity’s values match yours when applying to trusteeships. First look at your values, and then reverse them.” – Leesa Harwood
Resources for kickstarting your trustee journey:
- The Charity Learning Consortium has some great animated videos explaining everything from trustee roles to the structure of charities, click here to check them out
- Getting on Board have a directory of current trustee openings, click here to take a look
- Getting on Board have sample cover letters for you to practice putting together a trustee application. Click here to download a copy
- Give our book a read – How to become a charity trustee: A practical guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know. Click here to buy your copy today