Swansea Mind Trustee, Lauren Burns, blogs about her journey from volunteering to trusteeship and what she’s learned from the experience. Lauren has been working with the ‘Link Up’ Project in Swansea to develop her skills for trusteeship.
1. What motivated you to become a trustee?
I started volunteering for Swansea Mind over four years ago. It was an easy decision as I wanted to help people with mental ill-health and gain experience of working within a charity. Throughout my time there, I hoped to get more involved, which lead to applying to be a board member. There was an opening for a volunteer representative, so thought why not! It may be a good opportunity to further my knowledge and understanding of the third sector and, of course, add something different my CV making it stand out.
2. What have you enjoyed/gained from the experience?
This experience has been fantastic as I have learned so much. It has given me a completely different perspective of the charity, has taught me to tackle problems operationally and have given me a better idea of the bigger ‘third sector’ picture. I’ve had so much training, such as bid-writing, minute-writing, equality and diversity on the board, being an effective board member. It has truly been a fulfilling, worthwhile experience.
‘This experience has been fantastic as I have learned so much’
3. What have been the challenges?
There are two challenges that come to mind; my age and thinking operationally. I was 24 when I joined the board, so felt like I had very little life experience. I was also too nervous to ask questions because I feared looking stupid and was fighting inner negative thoughts about not being cut out for it. However, with the training that SCVS provided, gradual exposure, and increased confidence to ask questions, I realised that I could be an effective board member, and even took on extra responsibilities, such as being the Secretary of the board as well as Volunteer Representative.
The other challenge was moving from an operational, volunteers’ mindset to a strategic board member’s one. This is something I’ve had to continually work on this past year, but SCVS have a mentorship opportunity that I signed up for. I was allocated a mentor and she has been amazing. She helped me find solutions to challenges, directed me to various people and information sources so I can further my knowledge, and assisted with differentiating between the two mindsets – emphasising the difference between looking at a problem with an ‘operational’ hat, and a ‘strategic’ hat.
4. What do you think charities should do to encourage more people to become trustees?
I feel the focus for charities should be the diversity of the trustees. A smaller, diverse board, in my opinion, would be more effective than a larger board filled with people who have similar life experiences. Diverse backgrounds and knowledge in trustees is very important; it can create better discussions, identify innovative solutions to challenges, and increase board efficiency.
5. What would you say to someone who’s thinking about becoming a trustee?
I would say to go for it! In fact, even if one had not considered being a trustee before, I say they should consider it. Everyone has knowledge they can contribute, and sometimes if it is a small charity, the board members do assist with some higher operational tasks – so an extra pair of hands, someone willing to help, is always appreciated. Also, I would say if part of the reason you have not applied to be a trustee is because of worry or nervousness, then get in touch with the charity or a local council volunteer service. Book an appointment to discuss applying to be a board member and talk to someone about it. There’s no obligation, just a conversation. It could be worthwhile, I certainly thought it was.