The information is still relevant now for anyone considering becoming a trustee.
We're both relatively new trustees; Steve started in 2011 and Liz earlier this year. But we feel strongly that people can be put off. It sounds a bit posh and overwhelming doesn't it? Remember that boards are the critical friends to organisations. With that in mind, during this, Trustees Week, we have collated our thoughts into a list of top ten tips, so that if you think you might be trustee calibre, but were too afraid to ask, then "come on in, the water's lovely". Honestly, charities may need people like you on the board.
1. Don't be intimidated
You have been invited/voted onto the board and you deserve to be there. You bring something the board/organisation/membership says it needs. You may need to take big decisions on the board, but they won't be all the time, you'll probably have plenty of warning, and, most importantly, you'll have lots of support. Scott says: "I work in an administrative role and was concerned that because I'd never been a manager, I wouldn't be taken seriously. However, I've worked in the charity sector for nearly ten years, in several roles and have also been a volunteer. I discussed it with Steve and realised that boards want a variety of skills and experience. With the right support and a bit of confidence, you can do it and, as it turned out, he was right!"
2. If you don't understand something, ask
You can save yourself time by clarifying something quickly, rather than pretending you know what you're talking about. It's OK to ask; you're not expected to be a specialist. Palmer says: "I used to be a school governor and I was always getting teachers to explain education jargon. Investing ten seconds now can save you lots of embarrassment and lack of knowledge on a subject in the future."
3. Run ideas and thoughts past people, especially before a board meeting
This will help you to prepare, and those whose help you seek, for instance other trustees, will appreciate it. Read the papers you are sent and think about how you can contribute to a meeting, including how to be a critical friend to the charity. Palmer says: "In the past I've had a quick email chat with a few trustees so that I'd done a bit of research, and when the item came up before the board, a few more board members have known about it and have bought into the concept."
4. Think about what you can bring from your day job
Think about the jobs that other people do in your department and bring your general knowledge about them to the board meeting. Scott says: "My background in admin actually really worked in my favour. Boards need good processes and governance procedures. BMy general background in the charity sector has also given me an understanding of funding, communications, marketing, events and co-production. A broad understanding of the sector can really help when, for example, your board is faced with some challenging issues."
5. Take opportunities to be an ambassador for your charity
For instance use social media to publicise something it's doing, or help to recruit new members and talk about it at every appropriate opportunity. Palmer says: "I use my Twitter account to update followers on @charitycomms developments, plus news from the sector. This week I've retweeted an interview with one of my fellow trustees.
6. Offer to take on a couple of tasks or responsibilities for your board early on
This will show you're keen and will help to build your confidence. Make sure they fit in with your work commitments though so that you don't feel overwhelmed or can't deliver. Scott says: "Think about where your strengths lie. You can't raise a million for your charity overnight but you can offer to help organise an away day or write up a report. Be realistic though; if you're snowed under in your day job, only take on what you can manage. They'll be plenty of time to contribute more when you have the space and time to do it. And, when you do make a contribution, your fellow trustees will really appreciate it."
7. Know when to take a step back
You can't do everything, nor are you expected to. A board is more than one person and you don't want to alienate your colleagues by involving yourself in everything. Palmer says: "I can talk for hours on end but I know that others' views are important. In my first board meeting I noted down every time I said something so that I didn't over-speak! That's far too formal I know, but for the first meeting it really helped me to make sure I didn't come across as a loud-mouth."
8. Keep in regular contact with your colleagues
If you see an article or tips which may be of interest and relevant, perhaps email it to them. Scott says: "Learn about trusteeship. Read articles, follow organisations on Twitter, link up with trustees in other organisations, look out for updates and innovative ideas. If you see an article which has particular relevance to your organisation, circulate it. Not only are you showing an interest in the sector; you're also developing your knowledge as a trustee and that of your colleagues at the same time."
9. Keep your knowledge up-to-date
Sign up for Charity Commission updates and take up any training offered. Palmer says: "Professional development is really important. Also, write down some of your achievements. I spent six years as a governor and I'm proud that during my time, and partly because of the governing body, our school had an outstanding OFSTED inspection. Be proud of achievements and write them down."
10. Use the knowledge you are gaining as a trustee in your day job
Remember this is a two way thing, put it on your CV. Scott says: "When your colleagues at work find out you're a trustee, they usually want to ask you more about it and possibly do it themselves. It also gives you the confidence to take on more responsibility in your day-to-day role. or contribute to a meeting in a meaningful way. Being a trustee is a brilliant way to develop professionally so it's a win-win situation."
Steve Palmer and Liz Scott both work at the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE). They "buddy up" regularly to discuss their roles as trustees – Palmer atCharity Comms and Scott at Vauxhall City Farm.
(Source: Guardian Sector Voluntary Sector Network)