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.