Youthful diversity at Focus Birmingham

Vicky Smith
Vicky Smith is head of Major Donors at Shelter.

Vicky Smith is a trustee for Focus Birmingham, a specialist charity supporting the visually impaired and disabled adults. Here she tells us about her experience of being a young trustee. 

I decided to apply for the trustee role at Focus Birmingham because I wanted to expand my understanding of leadership at a governance level in practice. It was a specific area of interest for me in my business studies. It was a perfect fit because the charity was looking for someone with marketing and fundraising skills and I had significant experience as a Head of Communications in the private sector and at the time I was a Philanthropy Manager for a local hospice.

Focus was looking to improve diversity, too. One of the many concerns for diversity on boards is the lack of young trustees.

One of the many concerns for diversity on boards is the lack of young trustees.

I was very familiar with the wonderful work Focus do, having grown up just down the road from their offices. And I had a personal interest. I have a grandmother who is partially sighted and understand the importance that support frameworks and activities have in her life. It’s a charity I feel really passionate about. If you are going to dedicate a lot of time, you need to feel strongly about it.

Being a trustee is a wonderful opportunity to give time to a great cause in a meaningful way. You learn so much about strategic planning, operational oversight and about the third sector. It does require time and commitment, especially to prepare and make key decisions, which may require deeper reading and research, but it is so rewarding to see an organisation grow and develop.

I have been heavily involved in the recruitment of the current CEO. I was on the interview panel, which was a great experience, as was developing the next phase of organisational strategy with my colleagues.
 

It does require time and commitment, especially to prepare and make key decisions, but it is so rewarding to see an organisation grow and develop.

Being a trustee also emphasises the importance of being both a critical friend and collaborative team player. You learn how board meetings work, to truly listen and at times constructively challenge, perhaps most importantly you learn the importance of governance and process first hand. It can be daunting as you are ultimately accountable for the decisions of the charity so it is not to be taken lightly, but it so valuable to have on your CV, whatever sector you are working in.

 

Being a trustee also emphasises the importance of being both a critical friend and collaborative team player.

At times it can be very challenging to balance full time work, a masters degree (part-time) and the role of trustee. Thankfully, Focus has started to move meetings to 5pm which makes it a little easier to fit in with work. I now also live and work in  London so I commute back for meetings when I can. But Focus have been very reasonable and for smaller committee meetings, I often Skype call in to save travel costs.

Reach provides a very valuable service, connecting those that want to volunteer  with charities searching. It provides a structured process, to ensure there is a skills match for both parties and having been through the process I can say it was seamless, applicants are well informed and it is an easy platform to use.

Become a trustee

What is a trustee? This guide is a useful introduction into the role of a trustee, trustees' role in a charity and what you might need to become one.

How young trustees benefit your board

A lack of young trusteees is one of the main concerns for Charities struggling to achieve diversity on their boards.