The secret of trusteeship – aim high!

November 6, 2014 at 12:26

I seem to have always been a trustee in some form or another for the majority of my adult life. I have learnt that being a great trustee requires almost a superhuman ability to tackle challenges head on, irrespective of personal interests, in order to do what is in the best interests of beneficiaries.

To be a good trustee is relatively simple, but to be a great trustee is much harder. The endeavour of going for great is not only more rewarding but makes you a better, stronger human being.

To illustrate what I mean, let me tell you about one of my experiences. I served one charity as chair twice. Like many trusteeships I didn’t seek the position out, it just sort of happened! I didn’t really want the job to be honest, but no-one else stepped up and the organisation would have had to close otherwise. It was understandable that this charity faced real difficulties attracting trustees – it was on the brink of failure, with a bad reputation in the local community, falling numbers of children using its services, and a poor reputation with the local authority.

During my first stint as chair we managed to halt the charity’s descent. It wasn’t perfect – for example, although the community was largely won around, our reputation remained poor with the local authority. Seeing the improvements we did make was very rewarding – but I knew we’d only patched the holes, and at some point they would reopen. I’m not sure why I agreed to take it on for a second time, but I decided that if I was going to do so, I needed to be clear about my intentions.
We needed to address the more fundamental issues, such as staff training and upskilling, an unsuitable operating space, and the need to build our reputation with the local authority.

The most senior member of staff appeared up for the challenge and said she wanted the best for the organisation. To begin with, everyone agreed and we made great progress. However, when this individual’s performance came into the spotlight, things fell apart. She was unable to confront the mismatch between her skills and where the charity was by that point. It was a hostile environment; we lost staff and trustees along the way.

Nevertheless, despite this setback, by the end of my tenure we had a new staff team, an outstanding Ofsted review, strong and respectful relationships with the local authority, a waiting list of children and a £0.25m grant to build a self-contained unit within the grounds of the local school.
None of this could have been achieved without the trustee body digging in and sticking to the task in hand – remaining focused on the beneficiaries. So this year I’m encouraging you to take on a trusteeship, because if you have the courage to take on the big stuff, you can really deliver change and grow as a person. Don’t settle for good – aim for great!

Caron Bradshaw, Chief Executive, CFG