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Tough at the top for a trustee

Tough at the top for a trustee

Becoming a trustee of a community organisation or member of a management committee can be both rewarding and daunting in equal measure.  I have been a trustee in a number of organisations of various sizes and reach and have found my experiences to be very different in all cases including setting up a community organisation as well as helping to close one down.

Reflecting on these experiences, and regardless of the size of the organisation I have learned the importance of

  • having clear roles and accountability,
  • a trusted and respectful relationship between trustees and
  • above all remaining focused on the purpose of the organisation and protecting the interests of the people and communities they were serving.

Many of the organisations I work with on a day to day basis are predominantly small, work for and are based in local communities and are mainly run by volunteers with some paid staff.  They often comment on their difficulty in recruiting new trustees as well as helping the organisation move forward, particularly at a time where money and funding is tight but not feeling able to make change for fear of failure, lack of resource and sometimes lack of energy.  I am sure many organisations feel this way whether they are large or small.

As a trustee it can definitely feel tough at the top!

When you are reviewing your governance arrangements or going through some form of change and transition (i.e. a new direction, project) or recruiting new people to your board getting the following three things right will ensure a much more effective outcome for your organisation:

Clear roles and accountability

This is obviously important, but you need to make sure that you are using your skills and expertise appropriately and spread work equally amongst the board so that individuals do not feel overburdened with responsibility. It also helps share expertise.  Where you have gaps in skills actively recruit people to fill those gaps or use short-term volunteer support instead.

A trusted and respectful relationship

When new people join or you are just beginning spending time building your relationship is really important.  It took me quite a few months to find my feet in my first trustee role, it felt very overwhelming at the beginning and I was not effective until about four months into my role.

You must also think about how you work together as a team and how you behave as all of these things impact on the effectiveness of your meetings and your ability to make good decisions.  Remember being challenging is important but not for the hell of it and making a decision (positive or negative) is better than going around in circles from meeting to meeting.

Remain focused on the purpose and interests of the communities you are supporting

And finally, but probably most importantly is making sure that every decision you make as a trustee is in the best interests of the communities you are supporting.  This might appear to be an obvious statement, but I have seen some instances where decisions made at the board level should have been taken earlier or been entirely different.  This would have avoided some of the challenges and difficult decisions that came later on down the line.

There are many tools and products to help organisations move forward, find out more about how Rocket Science can help here  or get in touch with Caroline Masundire. 

BIG Assist approved supplier

BIG Assist approved supplier

Rocket Science announced as BIG Assist approved supplier

BIG Assist is a programme for infrastructure organisations in the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector; delivered under contract to the Big Lottery Fund by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO).

The programme works to support infrastructure organisations based in England, to be more efficient, effective, sustainable and better able to adapt to the current and future operating environment. For more information on the BIG Assist programme visit the BIG Assist website:

Rocket Science have been approved as a BIG Assist Supplier to offer support to infrastructure organisations. We can be found in the BIG Assist ‘marketplace’ here

This recognition builds on the work we have done supporting a range of voluntary sector organisations and infrastructure to support their organisational development and resilience as well as their impact and income modelling.  You can find out more about our range of support here.

For more information contact James Turner in our Newcastle office or Caroline Masundire in our London office.

Managing grants – the FAME way

Managing grants – the FAME way

FAME: Fund – Assess – Monitor – Evaluate!

We have developed tried and tested processes which together comprise a full grant-management service, from the inception and co-design of a fund, through to its evaluation and impact assessment. Our support for funders goes beyond ensuring effective grant-making, and includes services which are increasingly described as being “funding plus.”


In the current economic climate, funders are under considerable pressure to ensure that they make the best use of resources in pursuit of clear but realistic goals.  We support grant makers to articulate their objectives, designing a fund’s eligibility criteria so that funding particular inputs and activities has every chance of translating into relevant outputs and sustainable outcomes.


Funders need to be confident that they are selecting grantees and funding projects which have the best chance of meeting particular needs and desired outcomes.  Over the years, Rocket Science has developed our highly accessible, but increasingly intuitive on-line Bid Assessment Tool (BAT) which gives grant-makers confidence in their decision making and funding awards.


Monitoring is often regarded as the least exciting part of the grant making process.  Yet, our design and application of an appropriate and proportionate monitoring regime is often critical to ensuring that grants are deployed as effectively as possible, minimising the risk of fraud and waste, whilst building the capacity of a programme’s grant recipients.


Evaluation is not just an end-of-grant report, but should be an ongoing process of learning that adds value and insights throughout any grant programme, as well as contributing to an evidence-based assessment of a fund’s overall impact.  We work with funders to co-design evaluation frameworks and tools which bring together project and programme-level information in highly-accessible formats.

VCS Assist Tool

VCS Assist Tool

The VCS Assist Tool is designed to enable voluntary and community sector employment and skills organisations adapt to the changing market for their services.   Supported by ESF Technical Assistance, the Tool enables you to undertake a rigorous assessment of an organisation’s capacity to provide services in a market that is increasingly dominated by (lead) Prime Contractors and based on payment by results.

Please pop your email in below to access the VCS Assist Tool. The tool is and will remain free for all third sector organisations to use.

Your email address will be used only to track the number of users accessing the tool and to keep you up-to-date with any changes. We anticipate you will receive no more than 2 emails per year but you are able to opt-out of receiving emails from us at any time.


Online funding portal – making applications and monitoring easy

Online funding portal – making applications and monitoring easy

As no two grant funds are the same, we customise a Project Management System (PMS) for collecting and analysing management information so that it is appropriate for each fund and proportionate to the size of grant award. In the past, we have relied on a number of tools which we have tended to design and develop using Microsoft Excel in order to organise and maintain up-to-date information on the projects.

With the development of our Rocket Science Grants Management portal grantees can access and download the tools to support them in gathering and recording the required data, and submit their monitoring forms online. Each project can have customised reporting deadlines; submissions are tracked and flagged to the Grant Management team if they are late. Data within monitoring forms is automatically validated against common mistakes (such as mathematical errors using percentages, as we experienced in FreeSport Round 1), with relevant advice provided to help grantees complete accurate returns.

The portal also enables us to export dependable data into bespoke tools which we can use for client-specific needs, such as producing data sets to support the assessment of applications and highly intuitive information packs to support grant panels’ decision making.  We can also build customised progress reports which we export in order to support funders own reporting requirements.

Find our more by contacting Anna