Becoming the trustee of a charity is the kind of volunteering work that can complement your career and help you to develop new personal and professional skills.
Being a trustee is not only a valuable way of contributing to the third sector, it can also be an interesting and rewarding experience, helping to broaden your horizons and grow your expertise.
Trustees are the charity equivalent of non-executive directors and so need to be productive, motivated people with the necessary background to assist in rolling out efficient processes that can make every pound that the charity raises count.
In the simplest terms, such organisations are people businesses that rely on building relationships both internally and externally – key areas of expertise for HR professionals.
By using the skills gained in the workplace, I believe that you as an HR professional can make a significant contribution to a charity’s strategic direction. This situation can be achieved by bringing your commercial awareness and integrity to bear as well as by reinforcing the importance of engaging the best talent and looking after staff.
In return, you will gain an insight into different organisational cultures and ways of working, an understanding of important issues that affect the community in which you live and the opportunity to work within a high-level strategic team.
Trustees with commercial experience at a senior level are particularly appealing to charities as they need to generate income whether by tendering for contracts or developing social enterprises.
People who can have this kind of business expertise can have a significant impact on the quality of a board of trustee’s decision-making and help to fill the skills gaps with which many third sector organisations struggle.
My background is in the private sector and I have worked predominantly within the financial services and energy sectors. I am currently employed at BP
’s Exploration division in a global HR role and, therefore, am subject to very different challenges, strategic agendas and goals than a charity.
Nonetheless, I joined the board of trustee’s at CLIC Sargent
, a cancer charity for children and young people, in October 2011. It provides clinical, practical and emotional support for young cancer patients and their families and has developed an ambitious strategy for fundraising and generating income over the next five years.
The charity is also seeking ways of becoming more efficient and effective in order to ensure that more of each pound raised will go directly to support the people for whom it is caring.
As a trustee, I have a significant impact on the quality of the board’s decision-making in HR and staff compliance matters. My aim is to guide the organisation as it educates its staff in how to change the way that they work in order to achieve the over-riding objective of raising more funds.
Such change relies heavily on how well teams from across the business participate and collaborate by contributing ideas to the programme and working together to transform the way that they operate.
Change entails learning new things and so it is important that each employee is involved and that I am there to help guide changes to some of their roles and responsibilities. But a key goal is also to ensure that the new programme empowers staff and nurtures their individual talents.
As a global HR director, an important thing that I bring to the table is being able to think about matters in a different way to other board members as I have an alternative frame of reference.
I can ask questions that really focus on what’s important and challenge how the charity will be able to deliver on its strategy and plans. But it is also important that HR practitioners are able to influence the third sector organisations that they serve by using examples and information from other industries.
Such an approach requires not only a sound understanding of their chosen charity, but also a wider knowledge of how other businesses have approached similar problems.
For six years, I was a trustee of bss, an outsourcer of public and customer contact services. During that time, I saw the charity grow and develop through acquisition and by improving its processes and technology to become a key player in the market.
I was also a trustee of the charity Mental Health Media for four years, which merged with Mind
Each appointment has helped me to develop my own skills and knowledge and proved a rewarding experience.
Personal and professional rewards
I was also able to use my HR experience to evaluate strategic proposals and support the executive teams. While the roles have been predominantly non-executive, I have, on occasion, stepped in to provide ad hoc support when requested.
My current role as a trustee for CLIC Sargent has been particularly enlightening and humbling, however. Young people often need support once their treatment has ended and many miss out on significant chunks of their education. Moreover, as a result of their treatment, some also end up with disabilities.
But with high youth unemployment rates and a competitive market for new recruits at the moment, it is important that they are not held back by their experience of cancer.
Being a trustee means that the decisions that I make as a board member will have a direct impact on the quality of people’s lives. I help to decide where money is spent, support fundraising strategies and agree financial plans, which can all make a real difference.
But a key challenge is, undoubtedly, simply finding the time to attend meetings and other activities. As well as being on the board, I am also on the governance committee, which involves the personal sacrifice of having to give up some weekends and annual leave for my charity work.
But for me, the benefits significantly outweigh the costs. I believe that the experience has helped me to bring a new perspective to my ‘day job’. I’ve met some fantastic, committed, enthusiastic people and I’ve found every moment to be rewarding and fulfilling.
In my experience, the personal and professional rewards of becoming a charity trustee are high. There is a time commitment, yes. But, if your employer is able to think strategically, they will recognise the benefits to the company of bringing new skills and experience back into the business.
Jane Burt is HR director at oil and gas company BP‘s Exploration division.