Being a trustee is a big responsibility that should never be taken lightly. Reading through the Charity Commission’s guidelines for trustees (CC3 and CC20), we are left with no doubt that the buck stops with us as trustees. We are accountable, and we are liable for the actions of our charity. But it’s important to remember that we are human too. And the best trustees blend their responsibilities with their humanity.
Although most trustee training resources will comprehensively cover the regulatory obligations, here are some of the people focused priorities we should also remember:
The best Boards act as a team, not just a collection of individuals brought together for meetings. Proactively engage with your fellow trustees, meet with them outside the formal meetings, understand the group dynamics, and make sure that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Encourage your Chair to set aside time for team building so that you can get to know each other as humans first, then as trustees later. Set aside your own agendas and work hard to find common ground and the areas where you can most effectively collaborate.
The role of a trustee is to objectively scrutinise and monitor progress towards the delivery of charitable aims. But don’t forget to invite scrutiny of your own performance too. Encourage peer feedback between your fellow trustees, ask staff and volunteers how they think the Board is doing, and constantly look for areas for improvement. Set yourself some targets as a trustee (behavioural and tangible) and open yourself up to feedback. Trustees who continuously strive to improve inevitably do, and then everyone wins.
Trustees are not supposed to have all the right answers. Instead, they should ask the right questions, creating opportunities for the CEO and their team to find the best solutions. Be constructive in trustee meetings, and encourage the charity’s managers and leaders to explore their ideas and test new initiatives. Empower them to succeed and to fail. The days of directive, all-powerful Boards are gone. Today’s trustees need to be more humble than that, setting goals and then investing in, supporting and empowering the charity’s staff and volunteers to find a way of achieving them.
Being a trustee is a serious business. But that doesn’t mean that trustees can’t have fun. I love to hear laughter behind the boardroom door. Smiling trustees, twinkling eyes and a sense of humour around the Board table. When we inject fun into the role of trustee, we are more likely to see the human side of our Board members. We are less likely to be afraid of them and more likely to perceive the Boardroom as a safe place to bring good and bad news. Fun in the Boardroom doesn’t mean a lack of professionalism or accountability. It simply means that the trustees are happy to be human, authentic and openly excited about the potential of the charity and its people.
So, if you are a trustee, don’t just take your legal obligations into the Board room. Take your happy, empowering, collaborative, human self too. Then everyone will benefit.
Leesa Harwood is an Associate Trainer here at DSC. Her upcoming training course, Duties of a Trustee, on Thursday 12 May will provide you with the most up to date advice and information about charity boards. Click here to register today.