Becoming a Charity Trustee – for everyone’s benefit

By Michelle Wright, Founder and CEO of Cause4

13th November marks the start of Trustees Week which aims to showcase the work that Trustees do and to encourage more talented people to take up a role on the board of a charity. The benefits to the charities are clear. The insight and effort of experienced, well-connected people can make a huge difference to the work they undertake and the strategies they adopt. And, with one in four of the UK’s smaller charities – and one in five larger charities – struggling to survive, now more than ever Trustees are vital to the sustainability of the UK’s charity sector. Motivated people with skills, experience and ideals are needed to help steer charitable organisations through an uncertain and rapidly changing external world.



So who are these people and what’s in it for them?


The wonderful feeling of giving back can’t be understated, however ambitious professionals who become charity Trustees can also benefit their professional lives through what they learn and who they engage with while giving their time on the board of a charity.


There are few better opportunities for a young professional to cut their teeth in leadership and to gain board-level experience than as a Trustee. Steering a project, being responsible for a hard-working team, working with a CEO and providing plenty of healthy challenges, are experiences that are usually the domain of senior management. However, there are opportunities for younger professionals to build some excellent transferrable skills through Trusteeship as well and developing an interesting differentiator on their CVs.


A study by the Charity Commission revealed that only two per cent of charities have a Trustee under the age of thirty. Yet it’s many of the qualities that typify younger professionals that are most urgently needed in the not-for-profit sector today: technological savvy, flexibility and entrepreneurial flair.


Close Brothers Asset Management is one of the companies working to address the short-fall working in partnership with social enterprise Cause4. Since 2014, the firm has run a Trustee Leadership Programme, with the support of The Clothworkers’ Company, to train the next generation of charity Trustees.


Shirley Coe, Director at Close Brothers Asset Management, feels the initiative has an important role to play in supporting the UK’s charity sector.


“The UK is currently home to over 167,000 registered charities,” she said. “And with this number on the rise, the need for Trustees has never been greater. Approximately 50% of charities have vacancies so there is a significant need for Trustees. Crucially, smaller organisations tend to draw from their own network, so we created the Trustee Leadership Programme in conjunction with Cause4 and the Clothworkers’ Company to enable charities to gain access to a larger pool of talented Trustees. It is a national programme and we offer training up and down the country for approximately 500 new Trustees a year. We also recently launched an “Emerging Chairs’ Programme” in London for Trustees who wish to take on the ultimate leadership role by chairing a Charity Board.”


The training of any Trustee is important as Trustees have legal and financial responsibilities in relation to the charity and they need to be clear about what’s expected of them and what they are signing up to. Just because a Trustee has been successful in their day job, it doesn’t necessary tally that they’ll know what to do in their role on a charity’s board.

The major job of a Trustee is to support the development of strategy – to help the executive team shape their plans and operations, challenge thinking and to find creative solutions. The second key role is as an ambassador – somebody that can always talk positively and knowledgeably about the charitable organisation, from its key message and purpose, to its financial needs.


Anyone over 18 can become a Charity Trustee, with some opportunities possible from 16. Working for a good cause obviously offers personal satisfaction but there are also opportunities to engage at Board level which one of my colleagues can testify. Alex Morris is a financial advisor at Cause4 as well as treasurer to Signal, a UK charity dedicated to helping people with deafness and hearing loss and Crime In Mind, which promotes, supports and encourages research into forensic mental health services. He is enthusiastic about the opportunities he’s been given in his charitable roles.


“My experience as a younger Trustee has been far from stuffy,” 


“It’s seen me attend black tie dinners in the House of Lords and even coach rugby in Zimbabwe. My advice to any young financial professionals out there is this – take a chance, broaden your horizons, do something different and develop yourself whilst doing some good. You won’t regret it.”

For an organisation, encouraging your staff to take up a role as a Trustee, supports their own desire to give back and helps them develop their skills and networks which are ultimately beneficial in their full-time role. As public funding cuts continue, the UK’s charities are under more pressure to support our most vulnerable communities. Leadership skills on charity boards are in high demand. The skills and the desire are out there. It’s just a question of matching the available talent with the charity that’s going to benefit from their skills and that will appeal to them.


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