With thanks to Kate Gordon for the photos
This month, Kate Gordon and I held our event, Strictly Trustees, designed to learn if trustees are able to access the support and training they need to serve their organisations well. We were also more than a little curious, especially given my own sometimes underwhelming experience as a trustee.
Thank you for all those who turned up in central Birmingham on a Saturday morning with their own drinks and to John Lewis Birmingham for the loan of their community room.
Kate kicked off by asking two questions:
What did people wish they knew when they started? Generally, more knowledge and info about the organisation, their business problems and where to focus first.
Did you have an induction when you started your trustee role? It's rare/unheard off to have had any sort of induction training on embarking on a trustee role.
We decided on an un-conference style and these are some of the potential topics that came up for discussion; networking, CEO appraisals, funding models, time taken for action, safeguarding, term times, recruitment & diversity, which contracts are covering what costs (how do we obtain info we need from operations for informed decision making), reading the accounts, how to know which questions to ask, good governance, roles & responsibilities, skill levels.
We picked two topics to discuss and these are some of the findings:
The option to have service users on boards should be considered
Have conflict of interest declarations at the start of each meeting
Manage boundary between CEO & board
Beware founding trustees often have a personal investment
When volunteers become trustees (i.e. a trustee as a glorified volunteer).
The benefits of having meetings outside the premises
Have subcommittees to deal with operational issues ie HR
Operation v Strategic - have one person to be the link to the organisation
The benefits of having some trustee only meetings
Not knowing what questions to ask (esp. finance). How to encourage trustees to ask questions. It feels as though Charity Commission keeps racking up the responsibilities for trustees with no (budget for) training available
Using an external facilitator for away days: cost shouldn't be an issue if this makes things better and board should be prepared to spend money to invest in good trustee skills (how much do you value the board?)
The best way to ask 'stupid' questions
Having efficient meetings where discussions lead to good decisions and progress is made during them. Quite often trustees are frustrated in having to wait for another meeting for progress when decisions can be easily made via email.
Focuss on the risk register
Quality of information available for informed decision making. Trustees need good quality of information available for informed decision making and to be a critical friend to the CEO.
Terms - check against the skills matrix to see if trustee is right to stay on the board for a further three years after the initial term
How to recruit and induct new trustees. Some potential recruits may be volunteers rather than trustees.
The benefits of visiting the organisations
Frustrations around how to raise frustrations! (especially with trustees with personal involvement with charity vs those who do not)
The sometimes cosy relationship between CEO/trustee or chair
The ability of having lead trustees for specific areas
We need more diversity on boards, including younger people, which means recruiting from outside networks. 'Positive action rather than positive discrimination' (although there is a concern as having targets may mean missing on on good skilled people). Use of social media.
Overall, trustees need more from the Charity Commission; more training (E-Learning or workshops around the country), more support and more guidance. Trustees don’t always know what to ask, especially in finance matters. Interestingly, the CC have posted excellent ‘questions to ask about finance’ (see image) although it links to a long, uninspiring article on their website.
We ended with the need to keep trustees connected, but how?