Article provided by Ian Joseph, Managing Director, Trustees Unlimited
Gaining board experience early on in your career and a sense of satisfaction you are contributing to society are two reasons why more professional women are becoming charity trustees.
A report from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), suggests that one in four people formally volunteer once a month and about one-fifth of the UK population is involved in social action in their local community.
Becoming a charity trustee is one way women can volunteer and give something back to society. At the same time, they can enhance their employability through learning new skills and working with other trustees, donors and stakeholders. Trusteeship also gives younger women the chance to get board-level experience earlier on in their careers than they might otherwise do so.
For anyone thinking about becoming a trustee it’s important to understand the responsibilities that come with the role. Trustees can be held legally accountable for the decisions they make, therefore it’s not a role that should be taken on lightly.
The legal implications, as well as the time commitments that are expected before joining a charity board all need to be considered. NCVO highlights a trustee can typically spend up to 2.8 days a month on charity work, with the vast majority being an out of hours commitment.
With almost 195,000 charitable organisations in the UK, from large big brand charities, to small organisations employing just a few people, there is plenty of choice. And, an estimated one in five have a vacancy on their boards.
Charities welcome professionals who can bring in fresh skills their boards may lack. Charities often face skills gaps in areas including legal, digital, fundraising, marketing and campaigning skills at board level.
Women professionals can also contribute to diversity. Charity boards are still predominately white, male and tend to be older. A Government report last year found that out of 700,000 trustees, two-thirds are male, the average age is 55-64 and 92% are white.
One way for women to find out about trustee opportunities is to see if their organisation runs a corporate volunteering programme. There is growing interest in these types of programmes from many organisations who see them as a fresh approach to leadership development.
One such programme is ‘Step on Board’, a board-level trustee development programme jointly run by Trustees Unlimited and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO). Companies including Barclays, Credit Suisse, Google and Mischon de Reya have signed up since it launched in 2014.
One Step on Board participant is Allison Watson, Head of EMEA Business & Operations Staffing at Google who joined the board of trustees for Working Chance, a recruitment agency for women leaving the care and prisons systems, at the beginning of 2017.
Allison had been considering how to get involved in a charity whilst on maternity leave and on her return to work, found out that Google had signed up to the Step on Board programme. She wanted to use the skills and experience she’d gained at Google to benefit a charity, and felt it was a good professional development opportunity.
One of the areas Allison has been involved in since becoming a trustee is corporate sponsorship – encouraging companies to support the charity. One of these initiatives is a partnership with Google, which has been helping equip the charity’s female beneficiaries with digital skills.
Allison says that becoming a charity trustee has given her a different perspective and helped her think in a different way. It has provided her with personal development opportunities and she has gained insight into how the charity sector works, including how to set up successful partnerships between charities and corporates. She recommends the role to others and says it has given her a fresh perspective on life, although she says it’s important to go into with your eyes open.
Another senior executive, Dina Shiloh, a partner at Gallant Maxwell, completed the Step on Board programme at her former company, Mishcon de Reya. She is a trustee at the Microloan Foundation, a charity that helps women in sub-Saharan Africa break the cycle of poverty by providing loans training and support to help them set up their own business.
The charity wanted to find a trustee with strong media skills to help promote the charity’s message and raise its profile. Dina was selected because of her media experience, as she had previously worked as a print and radio journalist, and a television producer.
She highly recommends Step on Board to any professional considering becoming a trustee, especially younger people as it provides a solid introduction and understanding of the requirements of the role a trustee will play. She adds she doesn’t know of any other way for people in their early 30s to gain board experience, so early in their careers.
About the author
Ian is Managing Director of Russam GMS, the longest established interim management company in the UK and a leading executive search firm. He is also founding Chief Executive of Trustees Unlimited, a joint venture with Bates Wells Braithwaite, Russam GMS and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations which is one of the leading organisations involved in recruiting Trustees. He is a founding Trustee of Cyclopark, an Olympic legacy charity and he sits on the professional advisory board of Charityworks – the not-for-profit sector’s graduate programme. Before joining Russam GMS, Ian was a Senior Consultant for one of the UK’s leading search firms. Prior to this he was Chief Executive of a charity for a number of years. He holds a Masters degree in Voluntary Sector Management from Cass Business School.