Mair Rigby, WCVA’s Governance and Safeguarding Manager, talks about the benefits of volunteering as a charity trustee and how to get started.
For Volunteers’ Week 2023, I’d like to ask you to think about volunteering as a charity trustee because sometimes people forget that trustees are volunteers too!
It’s true that being a trustee is a special type of volunteering. It does come with more responsibility than other less formal roles. But, at the end of day, the vast majority of charity trustees are unpaid and give their time voluntarily to an organisation.
WHAT THE RESEARCH SAYS
The Charity Commission published research in 2017 which showed that there are around 700,000 trustees in England and Wales with around 120,000 new trustees recruited every year. 90% of trustees say they find the role rewarding
Becoming a trustee role can be a fantastic way to volunteer, especially if you really want to make a difference to an organisation. It can give you an opportunity to contribute to something you feel passionate about and be great for your own personal or professional development. According to research from the charity Getting on Board:
- 96% of trustees say they learn new skills
- 73% say it has boosted confidence (74% of women)
- 84% said it made them happier
- 22% said they got a promotion at work because of it
- 38% said they had new leadership aspirations as a result of it
There are lots of opportunities out there and many boards want to recruit younger trustees and people with a diverse range of skills, experiences and backgrounds, so have a think about what you could bring to the role and don’t be afraid to apply.
HOW TO FIND OPPORTUNITIES
You will need to do some research to find vacancies. Here are some places to look:
- You can search for trustee roles on the Volunteering Wales website
- Have a chat with someone at your local Volunteering Centre as they may be aware of opportunities in the area
- Follow the charities you are interested in on social media or sign up to their newsletters
- LinkedIn can also be a good place to look out for vacancies
WHAT TO EXPECT
Every charity is different, but there should be some kind of selection process for trustee appointments, usually a CV and covering letter, followed by a more or less formal interview.
Some charities have open days or evenings for people who are interested in being trustees, which can be a great way to find out more. If the charity has voting membership, you may need to go through an election process and have your appointment confirmed at the next Annual General Meeting.
QUESTIONS TO ASK
I strongly recommend doing some research to make sure you feel the role will be right for you and that you know what you are getting into! Being a trustee can be very enjoyable, but you need to be aware that trustees have ultimate responsibility for overseeing the way the charity is run. Here are some questions to think about before applying:
- Does everything look okay on the charity’s entry on the Charity Commission register? You can read the most recent annual report and accounts if you want to see more detail
- Is there a membership of the charity and do you need to join as a member before applying to become a trustee?
- Have you had a look at the charity’s website and social media presence? Are you happy with what you see in terms of the charity’s values?
- Is the charity unincorporated or incorporated? This makes a difference to the kind of liabilities the trustees might have
- What kinds of legal responsibilities does the charity have? Are there staff or buildings, and does it work with children or adults at risk? This shouldn’t put you off applying, but do be aware that the trustees are ultimately responsible for the charity, so you need to go in knowing what you are taking on and feeling comfortable that the charity is managing any risks appropriately
If you’re happy with the information about the charity and feel you would like to be a trustee, there are a few more things I’d recommend checking out before applying for a vacancy:
- What is the time commitment? (board meetings only, or more?)
- Are the meetings accessible for you? (time, location, venue, joining options)
- Do they pay out of pocket expenses (childcare?)
- Will there be some kind of induction, or support for new trustees?
- Will any training be offered?
Your expectations will need to be proportionate to the size and resources of the charity you are looking at, but any charity with good governance in place should answer your questions honestly and be able to tell you what support is in place for new trustees.
HOW TO FIND OUT MORE:
- The Charity Commission’s guidance, The Essential Trustee, includes everything you need to know about the requirements and responsibilities
- The UK Charity Governance Code
- The charity Getting on Board has resources for aspiring trustees, including a free guide you can download, How to Become a Trustee (English only)
- Reach Volunteering has lots of information about trusteeship (English only)