Carter Murray’s Team Up event took part on the 10th of November 2017. The event was run in conjunction with the Small Charities Coalition (SCC). The SCC’s slogan is: informing, supporting, connecting, and all three of these values were encapsulated by the event. The event was a huge success. The event aimed to inform Marketing professionals about the opportunities for skills-based pro-bono volunteering or trusteeship within the Third Sector.
The panel was lead by Jo Major, Social Purpose Lead at Frazer Jones, who explained how she has implemented a strategy for Frazer Jones and the wider SR Group’s Corporate and Social Responsibility piece. In six months, Jo Major’s work has inspired three hundred people to volunteer their time to small and medium-sized charities. Jo acts a mediator between these volunteers and the Small Charities Coalition, with whom the SR Group has partnered. Those three hundred are now working with five to six charities.
Jo Major began by asking the panel to introduce themselves.
Katie Hollier, a Sales and Marketing professional who previously worked at O2, is a trustee at Oxford’s branch of Mencap and a charity in Uganda. Katie assured the Sales and Marketing professionals in the audience that ‘there is a space for you somewhere’ within a charitable organisation.
Jo Youle, who previously worked as a songwriter and performer, is now CEO of Missing People and a trustee for sexual health charity Brook. Jo explained that Missing People received national exposure when their choir was featured in the programme Britain’s Got Talent.
Alec Welland had worked at IBM, Apple and other companies in the Technology Media and Telecom space. He’s now COO at Help for Heroes and saw trusteeship as a great way to give back in a meaningful way, while diversifying his career.
If we could start off with a quick explanation of what a typical charity board looks like and the key functions of your board at Missing People?
Jo: Sure. The Board has twelve people sitting on it and the average length each board member sits is around three to six years. The Board provides a level of expertise for the charity in areas such as, policing and safeguarding, and is responsible for the overall positioning of the charity, especially the protection of the charity’s reputation. A Board is typically made up of a diverse group of people, from commercially-minded individuals, who can assist in skill-specific projects, to mavericks who look at things from a fresh perspective and who are not scared to ask difficult questions. As Board members serve for three to six years and then move on, it is constantly changing picture.
Many of us in the room probably won’t have a detailed understanding of what it means to be a trustee on a board of a charity. Please could you, in simple terms run us through the basics of what is a charity trustee and then if you could talk us through your main duties in your role at your local Mencap?
Katie: Most trustees will spend around four to eight years at a charity. You go in, do a job, and then move on. This way skills are shared across the sector by trustees moving from one charity to another.
As a trustee your main duties include the shaping and implementation of the charity’s aims and purpose strategy. This can be quite a challenge, as the aim of any charity is to work its way out of existence. You also have financial & operational responsibilities.
In addition, as a trustee you get other people to do stuff for the charity pro bono. And you must keep thinking long term. Who replaces you as trustee when you move on? Considering this question can help you grow as a person, as you must take a step back and question the future of the charity as an organisation after you are no longer directly involved.
Finally, you are responsible for educating people inside and outside the organisation by passing on your skills and imparting knowledge where you can and when needed.
I was wondering if you could add some additional insight into the legal responsibilities of a trustee?
Jo: As a Trustee you are a guardian of the organisation. You have a legal responsibility to stick to the mission and purpose of the organisation when considering financial decisions, particularly around funding. As with any commercial company, the organisation has a legal obligation to must remain a ‘going concern’. You must also consider conflicts of interest, especially when a situation may result in you profiting from a company that you have a share in, for example a company undertaking contracting or consultancy work for the charity.
Why do you think people become trustees? Is it to develop themselves professionally or purely for altruistic reasons?
Alec: I think it’s a mixture of both. I think if you asked most people their motivation for becoming a trustee, or for volunteering at a charity, they would say to give back in some way and to gain experience. I’m sure there are people that do so only for altruistic reasons, but for the vast majority it’ll be the opportunity to give something back and to diversify your skill set.
But the question itself is very important. Make sure you examine thoroughly why you want to do this; make sure you research and justify why you want to join a particular charity. Personally, I found working with a charity fantastic way to develop my career, and I gained exposure to different stakeholders that I simply wouldn’t have in industry. But the day in day out work presented me with new challenges and situations, especially around practicalities. For example, a particular property used by Help for Heroes had asbestos in its basement, so organising its removal and facility management that went along with it, was a new experience for me. I’ve also had to make decisions that have been morally challenging like when an ex-serviceman with PTSD wanted a particular work placement, and we had to decide whether it was suitable. I wouldn’t have faced these challenges in the tech industry.
Can anyone become a trustee? And in your view what skills and experience do you think charities are looking for in the current climate when it comes to diversifying their boards?
Jo: I think the skills gap and challenges are the same faced by commercial businesses. Some current challenges are the introduction of the GDPR next year; Brexit is a big one, especially around access to funding opportunities; and like businesses, we’re looking for people with digital expertise. As far as what you need to become a trustee, you’ll need to have an ambassadorial attitude, as the sector is very competitive. For the charity to take you seriously you’ll have to say why you want to join them. You must be able to articulate why you are committed to the cause.
Katie: However, I think it’s important to add that you don’t always have to be personally affected by the cause ex. someone came onboard to help aid in the Retail exposure of our charity but through helping on that specific project bought into the charity’s mission and has now progressed from pro bono volunteer to trustee.
And it’s easy to go on that journey. As Alec mentioned earlier, the experiences you have as part of charity are unlike anything in industry. I remember at Mencap we organised an event with the Countess of Wessex. We were all in this beautiful hall and everyone was sat among these rows of chairs; and as everyone, around 15 people, went up to meet the Countess, this boy with down syndrome sat on a chair at the end of line, and when it was explained to him that he was not supposed to meet the Countess, he said ‘I was only looking for the toilets.’ Everyone, including the Countess, burst out laughing. You just don’t get those experiences anywhere else.
We hear a lot about good Governance and how fundamental this is to the success of the charity, for you as a CEO what does this look like? Can you give us some examples of when effective governance has really transformed the work of the charity?
Jo: Well, the Board acts as a kind of safety net by questioning the decisions of the Executive. I think good governance is based on the way risk is approached and handled. I’ll give you an example. We wanted to double the number of people we help and to do this we launched a number of initiatives, one of which was a Gala at the V&A. The Gala posed quite a lot of risk financially; however, the Board backed the finance for the event and we raised two-hundred thousand pounds from it. It was so successful that we are planning a second gala, and the money raised has gone a long way to transforming the level support our charity can provide.
Alec: Going back to the question about charities diversifying their Boards, good governance can sometimes depend on having a diverse Board, especially the mavericks asking the difficult questions. Bryn Parry, founder of Help for Heroes, is a strong-willed individual, but he was able to recognize shortfalls in relying on paper-based marketing collateral, by trustees and board member who saw the potential of utilizing digital platforms. You need to be a critical friend, as a Trustee and show bravery when challenging a CEO. But you’re the eyes and ears of the organisation and your expertise means you’ll be able to spot improvements. With that said, I must stress the importance of effective communication between different levels of the organisation as a trustee.
Katie: I just want to say that you should not be apprehensive about vetting a charity to check if it’s governed well. Make sure you do your due diligence, espeically after what happened with the Kids Company; so, meet key stakeholders and the CEO; make sure they have a risk register and a 5-year plan and clear objectives; check their accounts; speak to you network for intel. And while doing this, you should be checking the kind of skills that they need. Oh yeah, and get to events! Events offer a fantastic opportunity for you see the charity in action and meet people
Is there a formal recruitment process attached to a trustee appointment? It would be useful to know if your experiences with both Mencaps differed?
Katie: No, there isn’t a standard process - all charities are different.
Jo: They should have some kind of recruitment process though.
Alec: The recruitment process changed after the Charity Commission intervened after the Kids Company fiasco, so there are legal structures now in place.
From your experience Jo, who is it that actually leads the process of board appointment, is it the chair or as a CEO do you have any influence?
Jo: CEOs have influence in the selection process to an extent, but the selection is, ultimately, the Chair’s decision.
So, having established your key role and responsibilities as a trustee, what opportunities have you had to put your Marketing skills into practice?
Katie: Well, my journey started when I volunteered at Mencap to help with holidays out for those the charity helps. After I did this for a while I then joined the committee and eventually the Board. So, a potential trustee must be willing to give a lot of their time, but what you receive back is astonishing. My Sales and Marketing background has helped when deciding whether to approach the Government for funding or to fundraise directly ourselves - my knowledge of sales and marketing was particularly useful then. And my skills are constantly challenged by others within the organisation, for example, I’m often challenged on why I’d approach a marketing campaign in a particular way. As a trustee, you should try to remain objective, although this is challenging when you’re are emotionally connected to the cause.
You have had an incredible journey with Help or Heroes. Your experience is a testament to how skills based volunteering can turn into a career move and that you don’t have to necessarily go down the Trustee route to have impact. Can you tell us briefly about your experience and what you feel it’s added to your professional career?
Alec: My journey began with interim volunteering. I came in to help run a recruitment project that centred around attracting and retaining quality volunteers. Much of this project involved defining and utilising Help for Heroes brand equity as a recruiting mechanism; the training of volunteers to be ambassadors; convincing Bryn, the CEO, to move to the digital space and then managing the definite user touchpoints.
There are definitely challenges when moving from the commercial space to the Third Sector. Be careful how you pitch your skills and ideas. You need to add value to the charity and you need to be relevant with the skills you can offer to the charity. But there are plenty of opportunities for people with Sales and Marketing backgrounds, certainly around reputational risk.
I am always in complete admiration for those in the sector who not only have a fulltime career leading a charity but still have the time and dedication to sit on boards for other charities. Why is it important for you to hold a trustee role at Brook and what do you feel you gain from it – both on a professional and personal level? And I guess tagged on to that is how do you manage your time?
Jo: Well, I moved from doing pro-bono work to joining the committee at Brook. I think it’s really important to find an organisation whose mission and values reflect your own in some way. I’m passionate about sexual health education for young people, so when I had the chance to become a trustee and to use some of things I’ve learned at Missing People in a different context I took it.
Professionally, you need to keep learning. Don’t stop learning. And practice humility. You can’t do everything. But, again, as mentioned earlier, as trustee you must remain a critical friend and ask the questions no one wants to ask, especially around finances.
Katie: It’s all about balancing your time and family etc – it’s very difficult. I just wanted to say in reference to the skills question earlier: you are always thinking as a Sales and Marketing professional in you approach to different challenges you’ll face as a trustee – so opportunities to use your skills are constantly arising.
But back to managing your time. You need to be prepared, so it’s crucial you find the time to prepare. Everyone at Executive and Board meetings will be, so you don’t want to turn up underprepared. You’ll need around four hours for board papers, that’s understaning what’s in them and making notes. Manage your own expectations and manage the expectations of your boss if you are volunteering and working fulltime. I always say: ask forgiveness, not permission.
Jo: Following on from what Katie just said, bear in mind that, after all, you are adding value to your employer by being a trustee or undertaking pro bono work. You develop transferable skills that feed into whatever role you do in the commercial sphere.
And finally, Alec: How has your work at Help or Heroes changed you? How rewarding do you find it and does it build a sense of well-being?
Alec: Well, I’ll give you an example. I participated in the Big Battlefield Bike Ride event - a 78 miles ride across Northern France. An ex-serviceman, Dean, was on a recumbent bike, and this guy did the same hills as everyone else even though his bike weighed almost ten times that of the bike I was riding. He came off in a nasty accident, damaging his side and his hands. He spent a few hours in the hospital. As soon as he was discharged, he dropped off at the spot where he came off, got back on his bike, completed the stage, and then did the next day too. It was utterly inspiring As Katie and Jo have corroborated, the experiences you have at a charity are grounding, they fill you with humility, and they give meaning to your effort and work. But it’s needs to be the right charity and the right fit for you.
Question for Jo: How prepared were you for the BGT fame?
Well, we knew it would be big impact before we went on the show and lucky for us there was a trustee that had previous experience of managing a similar impact at a different organisation. The response we received was overwhelmingly positive, but there were some negative comments, especially on social media, so we had support in place for the members of the choir. We were well aware and knew the value of such exposure for transformation. So, I’d recommend seeking advice and to surround yourself with knowledgeable people.
Question: Who’s the right person to target at the charity if you want to become a trustee?
Jo: Approach a few, for example, the CEO, Board members, other trustees. Remember to do your due diligence. Good charities will always get back to you.
Katie, trustee that is most appropriate, 5 meetings, check it out, due diligence.
Alec, have a range of charities, 170,000 out there don’t get disheartened.
Question: How do you reconcile the rationality of doing a role with the emotion of the cause?
Jo: It is very difficult sometimes. I’ll give you an example. Missing People were launching an initiative at Parliament. I had to make a speech and I was feeling nervous. But I was with two high-profile mothers who had children missing at the time. I remember thinking my nerves are nothing compared to what these mothers are going through. I suggested you try and use the emotion of the situation as a driving force. Connect emotionally, but manage it.
Alec: Some people will understandably struggle with this, but you need a keep level head. You need to stay grounded. Professionalism is a transferrable skill, so coaching and mentoring are skills that you can use in this kind of situation.
Katie: When leading O2 campaigns, if you make a wrong decision, lives are not affected in the same way as they are when you make decisions as part of a charity, where strategic decisions really impact lives. So, it can be a challenge to remain objective.
Question: How does competition manifest itself in the Third Sector?
Jo: Basically, you are competing for the same funding, so you need to stay focussed on your own space and be practical about pitching. Partnering plays an important role, so we’ve partnered with other charities such as the NSPCC. But the competitive environment is challenging – which is why small charities need you!
Alec: Partnering undoubtedly helps when applying for funding. You need to keep asking yourselves, are we relevant? What can we do to effect transformation? And share funding across different causes. We always say: Share a wallet, Share a voice. It’s important to stay as impartial as possible and to try and take a holistic approach.
Katie: Managing competing responsibilities in order to spend time fundraising is a challenge, especially with bespoke applications. You end up spending money in order to compete to raise money. This is sometimes quite frustrating.