Who would be a trustee or committee member?

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Attribution: Alpha Stock Images – http://alphastockimages.com/
Original Author: Nick Youngson – http://www.nyphotographic.com/
Original Image: http://www.thebluediamondgallery.com/wooden-tile/t/trustee.html

If you ask many small charities and groups, the answer to the above question is “not enough people”. If you ask most members of the public, they would probably look at you blankly and ask what a trustee does. Almost nobody volunteers for a charity because of the quality and excitement of their trustee meetings. People get involved because it is a cause, an organisation, a mission they are passionate about; people want to make a difference by doing, campaigning, interacting and not by meeting to check the safeguarding policy is up to date or the annual returns have been posted! Too often trustees are press-ganged into the role, I have lost count of the number of trustees I have met over the years who were dedicated supporters and/or volunteers of a charity and have been co-opted (coerced) onto the board because there was a need for more bodies.

Lots has been written about diversity on boards and this is something that should be encouraged, but too often the reality for most charities is that ‘we will take anyone who offers’. I know any number of charities who are so desperate for a treasurer they would happily accept the Count from Sesame Street as at least he understands numbers. Sometimes diversity or skills are less important than warm bodies who will turn up. We need to think about how smaller groups can turn this around given that there is no budget, and that there is less kudos and more work in small organisations, often trustees have to take on the day to day management tasks as there are not the staff or volunteers to do this. Arguably the role of say the secretary in a small organisation with a £50,000 turnover is more time consuming than it is in a multi-million pound one. In the small organisation you are doing it all, in the larger one you are checking that someone has done ‘it’.

Without a doubt a diverse, highly skilled, and well recruited trustee board is a positive benefit to an organisation. There are lots of people thinking about this at the moment, but I wonder how many will do so in a practical way for small organisations. How much of the advice will take into account the reality of working in rural or more deprived communities?

Recently Susan Elan Jones, the Labour MP for Clwyd South and co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Charities and Volunteering introduced a 10 minute bill that has passed the first stage in parliament. This would add trustees to the list of activities that organisations have to give employees reasonable time off to attend, putting trustees on a par with councillors, magistrates and school governors. This is a good thing but there has been a recent issue with these bills making it through the parliamentary process. And anyway parliament seem to be obsessed with something else at the moment! – We can hope this is successful and you can find out more in this article.

If we assume that this happens will it help our small groups? Yes but …. What is reasonable time off? What does it mean to smaller local firms who may employ the local trustees? What does it mean for those in low income or temporary work who may be the trustees of the grassroots organisations? Will this mean more trustees for small local charities?

Should we pay them

My answer is and always will be no. This may seem idealistic but if you start paying people then motivations change and so does the whole ethos of charities IMHO. So, no payment but let’s be better about expenses. Encourage people to take them, if all do it, it won’t make that person who does need to take them feel stigmatised. If those that don’t need them donate the money back to the charity or another charity great, and we can claim gift aid, so great with a perk! Also remember expenses might include paying for child care or to overcome other barriers to coming out like a carer or interpreter. We all say we pay expenses but how many of us are doing it as no one has asked?

Open recruitment will make us more diverse.

That is what the research says, and I have to agree. But (and there is always a but), how practical is this for small groups with no budget and little experience. Luckily there are lots of resources available including a new guide from Getting on Board called ‘How to recruit trustees for your charity’ This has lots of advice that builds on the ‘Taken on Trust’ research. This included work to support 30 charities to recruit new trustees of which 74% were successful. Whilst this is great if only ¾ were successful when given significant help and support then it shows how difficult it can be for small organisations.

CCVS is there to offer some support so do contact us if you need help, but you have to sell your organisation and the role! Few organisations do advertise, and when they do it is generally in the free places where they are appealing to the ‘usual suspects’. By putting your advert on Reach or on Do-It, or for that matter on the CCVS website, you are advertising to people who are engaged. By advertising on social media, you are competing with all the other noise. This is a start but if you are looking to diversify your board you are going to have to invest time, energy and resources into this then. Use the above guide to try and get it as perfect as possible and be creative with your ad and where you place it..

Why do no diverse people come forward when we advertise?

There is an issue about diversity on boards. The Charity Commission has been (unhelpfully) highlighting this for a while. I am pretty sure that most of those working in the sector are aware of this. Unfortunately, open recruitment will not solve this alone. We need to address some fundamental issues which stem from the ‘that’s not for the likes of me’ syndrome. We need to look at any issues that exist about why some people do not see themselves as trustees. We need to look at why those from the working class or those from lower income groups do not see them selves as trustees. We need to address why there are fewer people from BAME communities who are trustees. We need to think why young people are not becoming trustees. We need to spread the word that trusteeship is about them, that they do have skills, insights and experiences that are important, we need to highlight the things that people can gain from being a trustee (there is a whole blog about what I have gained from it, but do check out this). If whole sections of the community do not see themselves as potential trustees no amount of open advertising is going to improve things.

So what can we do?

I think that there is a disconnect in the advice and the reality for small charities (those with an income below £100K). I also think that there is more that we as a sector can do, and more that we as a local support organisation can do.

  • We see many adverts that list the skills needs for trustees as HR, finance, management, social media etc. and less that stress the need for commitment, passion, interest, lived experience. We need to get better at appealing to a wider group of people, we have to work to write better adverts.
  • We need to find ways to make more people see themselves as trustees. This means that groups working with these individuals need to look at how we educate and inform people that charities want them.
  • We need to find funders that will fund grassroots programmes to provide advice, support and training to get more people to become trustees.
  • Charities have to want diverse boards and not just say they do. Often boards become ‘clubs’ and this is very off putting if you do not naturally fit in. It is important that all organisations look for new ideas and disrupters, and are able to engage with and encourage the change that they bring.
  • We need to think where we are advertising and not simply use the usual channels, and this is where open recruitment needs to be better – if we have an advert that appeals to a certain group, we need to put it in front of that group.
  • We need to put in place appropriate training and support for new trustees. This has to be from infrastructure organisations and also from the trustee’s own organisation. We need to make this support and training flexible and appropriate to trustees from all backgrounds.
  • We need to be better at articulating both the difference that trustees make and the personal benefits that being a trustee brings. Many volunteering opportunities are couched in this way and sometimes it feels that trustees are looked at differently than volunteers when in fact it is simply one form of volunteering.
  • We need to make our meetings accessible to different people, this means looking at the times and venues but also at the use of technology and how we structure meetings.

Without trustees the sector grinds to a halt, yet for many small groups getting trustees is an ongoing struggle. We need investment that will both help the groups look in new places as they recruit, and will also help more people to see themselves as potential trustees. We need good quality advice, support and training for new and existing trustees to ensure they are kept informed and up to date with best practice and legislation. We need everyone, including the Charity Commission, promoting the fantastic work charities do and how trustees contribute to this.

What I need to move my charity forward and be the best it can is someone committed and passionate about our vision. I can’t teach that, I can teach a bit of charity law, or finance or strategic planning.

Advert to a page to find out more about being a trustee on the CCVS website
Advert to Duties of trustees training to be held on 30th April in Cambridge

Who knew food could be so unequal?

Food is not really something I think about much, my wife is an excellent cook and does the food stuff at home, this includes much of the shopping and the planning. My job is to eat, make my share of breakfast and packed lunches, and occasionally visit the local shops. (In my defence I do most of the cleaning and ironing).

But food is a real issue and not just in the difference between what we eat and what those in the developing world eat (see the Hunger Notes 2013 World Hunger and Poverty Facts and Statistics), but in what goes on in a relatively wealthy City like Cambridge. That was the theme of the latest Cambridge City Diversity Forum.

Food, Glorious Food was held on 23rd June at the Meadows Community Centre and saw a number of food related presentations followed by a collective exercise to produce an interactive food map of Cambridge. In no particular order we heard from a number of different projects that help to alleviate food poverty and ensure that food is used in a sustainable way.

Foodcycle in Cambridge

They are the local branch of a national movement that

 “serve a delicious lunch at The Centre at St Paul’s Church every Saturday to a range of people from the community. The Centre is at the heart of the community and helps us to reach out to people in the local area. We also work in partnership with local organisations such as the Cambridge Love Food Hate Waste campaign. Each week we collect surplus produce locally from Sainsbury’s, the City Food Bank and Lensfield Road Farmer’s Market and then we turn these ingredients into exciting and nutritious meals for our service users to enjoy”

 

Cambridge Edible Garden

Their face book page says they are

“A new edible garden project at Murray Edwards College in Cambridge for students, University staff & the local community. All are welcome!” and that they “In short, we grow food on-site and then we eat it. Simples”

Cambridge Foodbank

Web http://cambridgecity.foodbank.org.uk/

Part of the national programme of Foodbanks Cambridge City Foodbank  works from 5 distribution centres across the City. In short

“Food is donated

Food is sorted and stored

Frontline professional agencies identify people in crisis

Clients receive short-term emergency food”

Cambridge Sustainable Food

They are

“a broad new alliance of organisations promoting healthy and environmentally sustainable food for all.”

 

So all in all it seems that there is a fair bit going on in the City when it comes to food sustainability and equality. The second half of the meeting reinforced this as all those present wandered round the room adding projects that they were aware of to giant maps of the City. These will eventually be digitised and we will share the results with you once we see them.

Once again the voluntary and community sector are coming up with innovative and practical ways to solve a problem not of their making. These solutions do not cure the disease that sees some people with not enough to eat but they go some way to alleviating some of the symptoms. As a sector (and as individuals) we need to look at how we can eliminate this imbalance.  Cambridge is a wealthy City but this does not mean everyone is wealthy, but surely it is not too much to expect that no one goes hungry!

Cambridge City Diversity Forum

Cambridge City Diversity Forum.

This meeting concentrated on issues facing the elderly population and drew a much smaller crowd than the previous one that was looking at the changes to welfare benefits.

The meeting was a series of presentations followed by a wider discussion on the issues and some thoughts on what the City and others could do in the future.

In some ways the Cambridge is facing different issues than many of the surrounding areas. The relative numbers of older people in the City are not growing as fast as they are in surrounding districts and the ‘explosion’ in the numbers of elderly residents in the future is not likely to be nearly as high as in some places. That said the City is a destination for many people to shop, use services, access health care etc. and that means that many more elderly people than actually live in Cambridge are visiting, this has implications for the council and for groups putting on services.

We heard presentations on the

  • Community navigator scheme offered by Care Network. Find out more here
  • Cambridgeshire Celebrates Age project. There is a lot of information, as well as a list of events planned for the future on their website.
  • Work of the City Council neighbourhood projects that support many groups aimed at the elderly and the work that is done at the different community centres. More information about what is happening in the different wards can be found here.
  • Work of the Housing Support team at the City Council and how they can support council tenants (and others). More information on housing support can be found here and information on independent living and the community alarm system can be found here.

Throughout the presentations we heard about the importance of community groups and volunteers to help support elderly people, and to help identify individuals who have support needs. The meeting recognised the importance of helping both existing groups as well as individuals needing help setting up new groups. CCVS are able to do this and if you need support please email us.

Two of the key issues faced by elderly people were loneliness and transport. Both these issues were stopping people getting involved and reducing people’s health and wellbeing. Loneliness is being recognised as a significant issue for the elderly with estimates suggesting that it has the same effect on life expectancy as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Check out the Campaign to end loneliness to find out more and also to find out how you can help. You can also contact the national charity Contact the Elderly who have a number of schemes in the area.

The issue of transport has been raised at a number of meetings, and this affects all the population regardless of age. Public transport in both the City and surrounding districts is being cut, and can no longer really be called public transport as it is run as a very profitable business by global companies interested primarily in shareholder return. That said there is some funding put in by local councils and there is an ongoing County Council consultation happening. More information from their website.

More and more councils are cutting services and reducing spending in order to meet government targets. The City Council has managed to preserve its grant levels, all be it with no inflationary raise, and remains very committed to supporting community groups to provide services and support. However more and more it is being left to communities to help themselves, the myriad different voluntary groups do this day in and day out. These groups provide an important lifeline to individuals as well as helping them to access services that keep them fit and healthy. The work of these groups has to be recognised and supported by all the statutory bodies or they will find that the demand for their services will increase. CCVS calls on councils, health organisations, the emergency services and funders to recognise the importance of the work of small voluntary organisations, to recognise the amount of money that these organisations save the state, and to fund these organisations to ensure their continued growth and prosperity.

If you want help with your group, or help setting up a new group CCVS are there for you. Contact us on 01223 464696 or email us.