How well prepared did you feel when you started as a trustee?
I felt very well supported – but this is different to feeling well-prepared. Both TISCA and Dean Close went out of their way to have face to face conversations with me, to explain why I’d been considered. I think in the back of their minds they knew that I was young and low in confidence, so the personal, relational reassurance and backing was completely there and I really appreciated it. They outlined the responsibilities, but it took me a while to get to grips with what good governance actually looks like.
What do you know now that you wish you had known from day one?
Lots of things! Here are a few of the big ones:
- It is helpful to have a really clear idea of your skillset; what you bring to the board that others don’t. So know your own interests, and the wisdom and insight you bring. It’s not a healthy dynamic if everyone’s sitting there thinking ‘x is my battle’, but it can be really clarifying and helpful in the early years, supported by the person who invited you to the body, to think about why you specifically have been asked. Sometimes it’s helpful to jot those things down and look at them before a trustee meeting if they don’t come naturally. For example, I often ask questions about chaplaincy and pastoral care.
- It’s really helpful to have a buddy or two on the trustee body – for me, there were one or two people who had similar concerns, had been on the body longer, knew the way that it worked, and they just made a beeline for me in those awkward coffee moments before the trustee meeting. Find some trustees who share your perspective. It takes 2-3 years to feel comfortable on a board, but it’s easier to feel that you belong when you have one or two people you feel more comfortable with.
- Do your reading– it’s remarkable how often people turn up and haven’t done it. This was me in my first few meetings – sitting in the car before hand and having a quick flick through the stuff – now I know you’ve got to set aside time, do your reading, be detailed, take notes, make a list of questions to ask. The quality of your involvement in a meeting totally depends on what you’ve done before the meeting.
- Many people are tired and pushed when they arrive at trustee meetings because it’s an extra thing and obviously people aren’t paid to do it, so being a trustee who brings enthusiasm and gratitude is immensely valuable. Thanking people who contribute. Sending reflections afterwards to say that you enjoyed the trustee meeting and pointing out how God is at work.
- For women in particular – when women have kids, trustee roles are often the first things that get dropped (although hopefully online trustee meetings means that this is less likely, and I’m a big believer in some online meetings because of this) but I think chairs and female trustees should be prepared to have a conversation. How can young mothers say involved in the work? How will their capacity change? It shouldn’t be a given that you’ll stop when you have kids.
- Pray for the work – I think it’s really important as trustees, because it’s not our primary area of ministry or work or life, that we don’t forget to pray for the charity’s work.
What are the advantages of having younger trustees?
I think there’s a danger that culturally we idealise youth too much and that we don’t respect older people. But, on the other hand, I think that the generational gap is bigger than previously, and younger folk who can bridge this are so important. Younger trustees are also keen to learn – they want to do a good job. Stereotypically, there’s a sense of privilege and excitement amongst younger trustees, so they give their all a bit more. The length of time you might have them on the trustee body is also a positive of younger trustees. Younger folk are also less jaded or cynical – there’s a sense of this organisation can change the world which can be a good counter to the lovely retired folk who have lost something of this.
What do you think those considering being a trustee for the first time are most likely to misunderstand about the role of a trustee?
Younger trustees are likely to compare trusteeship to being on a university society committee, but it’s a much bigger role. If there’s a reputational crisis, you’re implicated. It’s hard work and it’s pretty unglamorous. Younger folk need to understand that it’s largely thankless, unglamourous and that they need patience with the detail. We younger people are ruthless pragmatists, we’re not good at detail: we like the sound bite and the easy win, so I think that the sense of responsibility, hard graft, detail, and that it’s unseen is key, and it separates the goats from the sheep: do you so believe in this organisation that you’re prepared to do that for the mission?
What would you say to encourage younger folk into accepting trustee positions?
Often what stops people is that they have an assumed, unexamined idea of what the role is which they don’t fit with. So it doesn’t come up on their radar, or it’s a huge gear shift to get them to engage with it and understand how they do fit. I think the person doing the approach needs to be clear on what a trustee is and isn’t – it’s not always a grey-haired man who’s retired – but about valuing the outcomes of the charity, encouraging them to reflect on how they’ve benefitted from the charity, or how they wished they’d benefitted from it. I’d encourage potential trustees to prayerfully consider the work of the charity, and to remember that you don’t need to be very senior to be a good trustee. You just need to offer the skills the charity needs, and care about the work.
As you reflect on Frankie’s thoughts, here are some questions to consider for boards in which you are involved.
- How are new trustees prepared for their responsibilities?
- How confident are existing trustees in their responsibilities?
- How are new trustees welcomed and made to feel at home?
- How is your trust board making itself appealing to younger trustees?