Why some charities need your skills more than your money

Taking on a charity trustee role may be the most impactful thing you do in 2024. Trustees’ Week shines a light on the contribution of nearly one million UK trustee volunteers.  

Julie Hutchison
group of people around table in boardroom

Each November, Trustees’ Week shines a spotlight on the voluntary contribution of nearly one million charity trustees across the UK. Yet for many people, the benefits of volunteering in this more strategic way are little known. Julie Hutchison, Technical Director for Charities, sets out why taking on this type of role may be the most impactful thing you do in 2024.

It’s time to share 

Who benefits from the unique blend of knowledge, skills and experience you have?  Regardless of how many years you have under your belt, and whether you have been in paid employment, run your own business or focused on parenting or caring for others, you may not have realised that charity boards need you, and in fact have never needed you more. 

A report in 2017 by the Charity Commission for England and Wales points to why change is needed when it comes to who is missing from the charity boardroom. 

If we want to reduce inequalities and the risk of ‘group-think’, trustees need to be recruited from a more diverse pool of candidates. 

The role of charity trustee means that you hold decision-making responsibility over how a charity’s assets are used to deliver its charitable purposes. By ‘charitable purposes’, what is meant is the cause and mission of a charity, for example this may be linked to protecting the environment, improving health, education, animal welfare, or something else entirely. 

In smaller charities, trustees might find themselves actively involved in practical aspects of how a charity operates.  This is the case in about 80% of charities, since most operate with no staff.  But in larger charities who do have employees, the trustee role is more focused on ensuring good governance, supporting the charity’s senior management team in how it approaches running the organisation and offering ‘check and challenge’ as a critical friend.  Whatever the size of charity, trustees will need training to support them in becoming familiar with their legal responsibilities. Free help is at hand via the link at the end of this article. 

Motivations vary

Taking on a charity trustee role offers multiple benefits, and what matters most depends on your own motivations. For some people, it’s all about the charity’s cause: making a difference feels important at a personal level. You might also be interested in learning new skills, meeting new people and becoming involved in a board for the first time. A trustee role involves a more reflective and strategic way of thinking and contributing, which may be a new challenge to those who are early or mid-career as it could offer boardroom experience at an earlier point than may be found in their day job.   

When it comes to younger/pre-retirement trustees, there can also be another winner: a charity trustee’s employer. All of the skills development from volunteering on a charity board is brought back to the workplace. Listening, communicating, thinking about risk management, contributing to strategic decision-making: just a few examples of relevant and transferable skills.  It’s really positive that some employers – including LGT Wealth Management – have a Volunteering Policy which supports colleagues in spending some paid leave with a charity, which can involve a trustee role as much as practical volunteering.  It would be good to see more firms consider this. 

Consider donating your time, not just your money

The Charities Aid Foundation estimates that in the UK in the course of 2022, £12.7bn was given to charities, up from £10.7bn in 2021. This is not thought to reflect an increase in the number of donors, but rather an increase in the average amount being donated. Not all charities actively fundraise, and some are in the fortunate position of having been given land or money many years ago which now generates an income to support the charity’s activities. It’s a reminder that charities come in many different forms. Finding a trustee role that is a good fit for you can take a little time. As you look ahead to 2024 and how you want to invest your time, this new outlet for your energy, skills and experience could help you make a difference in a whole new way.

There are many free resources, videos and guides online to help you as a charity trustee. If you feel inspired to explore a trustee role, find out more information about Trustees’ Week here.   

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