Don’t ask me to be a trustee, unless…

Monday, June 26, 2017

I’ve had two trustee roles and enjoyed both immensely. I stayed in both for over four years, and then I left before completing a fifth year in either. I felt that potential to add value had eroded and it would be better for new people to come in with fresh skills and new thinking.

I know when it’s time to move on, and I do. Time is not renewable. When it’s gone, it’s gone.

As the managing director of a growing business with 13 colleagues and lots of clients, the pressure on my time is ever expanding. I have a wife, three children aged 6 to 14, I practice karate and like to go to the gym. I have friends I rarely see. If I gave more time to any of these things my life would be further enriched.

I work hard to protect my time for where I can have a positive impact and gain most enjoyment, so why would I want to take another trustee role? If I do, why should I join your charity?

Looking at most adverts for trustee roles advertised via the GuardianThird Sector, Charity Job and the like is an underwhelming experience. Most are little more than repetition of the job description and person specification. I guess this is better than simply relying on tapping up existing networks, but not much, as you’re unlikely to get a good return on your investment.

If I had a pound for every time I’ve heard a charity say that it’s challenging to recruit trustees, I’d be a wealthy philanthropist. It’s like anything in life; if you dedicate time and resources to doing it well, you get better results. Do you really think that an advert cobbled together quickly without too much thought is going get us flocking to you?

If I reflect personally on my trustee experience, have I had the impact or experience I would have hoped to have in my previous trusteeships that would make me do another one? Maybe, but I’ll be looking to answer this question more definitively in the future as my time pressures grow.

To attract me, or any potential trustee who has work and other commitments you’ll need to sell the potential impact we can have. We need to know that our time is well invested.  Have you undertaken any recent board development or given trustees development opportunities? If you have, and tell me that you have, I will see that as a positive indication that you have a board environment that will welcome my contribution and enable me to grow. Invest in me and I’ll give you a great return on that investment.

You think I’m hard work? I understand the role and I am socially motivated. I miss not having a trustee role, and I will certainly take on another trustee role before 2017 is out. I will attend the meetings and sub-committees, I will do additional things to fulfil my ambassadorial duties, and lend my expertise and advice to staff on an ad hoc basis when needed. You will however, need to give me a powerful reason why I should give that time to your charity.  As a minimum, here’s what I want to know:

  • What will my specific role be, and how can I use my skills to add value to the charities strategy or operations?
    Personal impact = motivation
  • What can the charity achieve over the next 3-5 years and how will the board of trustees support that journey?
    Team work = fun, and greater impact
  • How will you support and develop me?
  • What is the culture of your doard; if you are focused on strategic and generative discussion and open to new thinking, shouldn’t you tell me so?
    Exciting discussions = enjoyable meetings, that I want to attend
  • What do other Trustees say about being a trustee? I’d love to know!
    Tell me a story to develop emotional engagement

If you can bring these messages to me, rather than me having to look at adverts, even better. If you can’t answer these questions please don’t ask me to take time away from the other things in my life that I value.

More people think this way than you may imagine. Particularly the people you need to attract to achieve a more diverse board. There are millions of potential trustees in the UK, and most don’t know what being a trustee is, or how it can benefit them. How will you appeal to those people and show them how great an experience being a trustee can be?

If you would like advice on developing your Board, making a more compelling proposition to prospective trustees, or for support on recruiting new people, I’d love to tell you.

Grant Taylor, managing director, Peridot Partners.