So, you’ve decided to volunteer your time and skills to make a difference and you’ve done your research on being a charity trustee. The next step is finding the right role for you. Here are my top tips on finding the right trustee role:
1. Consider the causes are you drawn to
This may seem obvious but you will already know if you have a life-long passion for old buildings; deeply held views on the environment or strong beliefs in improving social mobility, so use this to help you identify which charity that you would like to support. Don’t worry if you only have a general feeling of wanting to do something positive for your community. When working for a cause, passion often develops. Do some research into the opportunities that are out there (there are lots!) and see what catches your interest.
Charities vary enormously. Think about the type of charity that appeals to you. We’ve all heard of Age UK and Save the Children but there are thousands of UK charities. Many of them are small but still achieving amazing things, often with very little resources.
Your experience on a board will depend on the size and structure of the organisation, so it’s worth exploring the following:
- The number of staff they have - Many charities have no staff at all. Trustees will therefore be actively involved on an operational level as well as strategically. Think about the type of involvement that you would prefer to have.
- Where their funding comes from - This could be local authority contracts; grants and donations, income generating activities or possibly a mix of all of these. Understanding where a charity’s funding comes from will give you some context to the challenges that they will be facing. If they’re heavily reliant on local authority funding, they're likely to be running services that are heavily regulated. They will also face uncertainty around changes of government and funding priorities. Money from trusts and foundations is getting increasingly competitive and if they generate at least some of their own income, they will often need some entrepreneurial type input on the board.
The Charity Commission website is full of useful information (visit Charity Commission NI for Northern Ireland and OSCR for Scotland) and every charity is listed along with a copy of their annual accounts.
Once you start looking, you’ll find that there are a lot of places that advertise trustee opportunities including:
- Reach Volunteering - Our online platform is free to use and we upload new trustee roles daily.
- Job boards - Many job boards also list trustee roles such as Charity Job, ICAEW and Guardian Jobs.
- Your local volunteering service.
- Your favourite charity - If you’re interested in a particular charity, it is worth checking their website as they may have details about trustee vacancies. If they don’t, contact them directly. They’ll be delighted to hear from you and if they’re not looking for trustees now, they might be in the not too distant future!
4. Think about your transferable skills
Finance, communications, digital and HR skills are always in high demand. However, it’s not always about your professional expertise. Good boards are looking for a rich mix of trustees and it’s just as likely that your personal life experience makes you a valuable addition to a charity’s board. For example, skills learnt as a parent or first-hand experience of mental health issues.
It’s a myth that trustees have to be in a senior professional role. Trusteeship is open to everyone over the age of 18 and many boards are actively seeking input from younger trustees. Boards will provide an induction and they may even have a buddying system where you team up with a more experienced trustee to help you maximise your contribution and get the most out of the experience.
5. Be realistic
It’s perfectly possible to fulfil trustee obligations alongside a full-time job but it’s important to be realistic about how much time and energy you have to give. These days, many boards meet remotely for some of their meetings so travel time may be reduced. However, you will need to allow time to read the board papers, and prepare for and attend meetings.
You might also be asked to sit on sub-committees that relate to your area of expertise, help with a specific project or give advice to staff members. Be upfront about how much time you have. Most chairs will understand and accommodate. Communication is key – ask questions and be clear about your own resources.
Most charities will ask for an application letter to accompany your CV. Don’t be deterred! A long essay or retelling of your CV isn’t required (or desired!), just a few short paragraphs outlining how you believe your skills will benefit the board or match the role description if there is one. Most importantly, why you want to be involved. Charities need committed, engaged trustees so tell them why this is you. There will be an interview and almost certainly the opportunity to ask questions informally. Remember, it’s as much about you getting to know them as them getting to know you.