Skip to main content

Being a trustee has never been so challenging or rewarding

Lord Michael Grade, Fundraising Regulator 

As a long-standing veteran of the charity sector and someone who has sat through their fair share of charity board meetings, I understand the pressures faced by trustees. These pressures are only increasing, with the modern world bringing new challenges and expectations.

During my time on trustee boards it was easy to focus only on bringing in the cash to meet the end cause without much concern for how this was being done. Today things are different and the expectations for open, honest and accountable conduct are high following the events of recent years.

The balance between expectations and reality might be difficult for even the most seasoned trustee to achieve but now they have lots of tools at their disposal. The quality and wealth of information available has no doubt improved since my day. However, as data, information and digital capabilities take centre stage, they bring with them their own responsibilities; and these are growing with GDPR on the horizon.

"Today’s world is full of diversity and employers are increasingly expected to reflect this; so too should charity trustee boards."

For time-pressed trustees, especially those in smaller and micro organisations, this is a stiff undertaking. They are unpaid and part-time, juggling their trustee duties with a paid job and home life. The Fundraising Regulator and many other organisations have worked hard to produce practical guidance and advice that trustees can use, helping them to get up to speed with GDPR requirements and to ensure that their charities are fully compliant come May 2018.

While the pressures are mounting, it’s never been more important to take stock of the people you have as trustees. Today’s world is full of diversity and employers are increasingly expected to reflect this; so too should charity trustee boards. We need to bring new faces and new talents into trusteeship, in order to bring new ideas to the charitable sector. Making information easily available, and therefore reducing the weight of trusteeship, is one step to achieving this. However, more needs to be done.

Having spent many years walking the halls of the BBC, a highly diverse organisation, I discovered just how valuable a varied team can be.  Reconfiguring the composition of your Trustee Board to include people from all walks of life will allow you to bring an expansive set of skills to the boardroom.

"Trustees have to be competent in managing reputational risk; scrutinising operations; managing budgets effectively."

So consider who you have, who you need and how do you get them? While many remain unaware of the opportunity that trusteeship offers for personal development, increasingly more businesses are catching on. Trustees have to be competent in managing reputational risk; scrutinising operations; managing budgets effectively; and as I mentioned previously, balancing the need to achieve objectives with the ability to comply with the highest legal and sector-wide standards.

For these reasons, companies are starting to promote trusteeship as a way to tick the learning and development box for their workforce, and this couldn’t come at a better time for the sector. Charities will reap the benefits from new talent while employees will gain the skills afforded by trusteeship. So while the challenges trustees face may be increasing, so too are the opportunities available to succeed and make charities even more efficient and effective.

Lord Michael Grade is the chair of the Fundraising Regulator