Supporting employees to be board trustees

Trusteeships can be a great way of contributing to the charity sector while upskilling employees too

There is a growing interest among businesses to work more closely with the charitable sector. Promoting trusteeships can be a great way to do this. This approach is more meaningful than mobilising a team to paint sheds and develops their skills.

There are almost 195,000 charitable organisations in the UK, ranging from big brand charities to small organisations employing just a few people. The Charity Commission estimates that one in five has at least one vacant position on their trustee board.

Charities gain several advantages by recruiting professionals with business skills to their boards. Most are under pressure to deliver more with less, in an environment of greater public and media scrutiny and regulation. Appointing trustees from a broader talent pool with professional skills can improve governance, boost growth, and ultimately deliver better outcomes for their beneficiaries.

But individuals benefit too. They gain new skills and experience by working in a new environment with people from different sectors and backgrounds. They broaden their horizons and networks and enhance their career prospects.

Companies benefit too as their employees gain board and networking skills and a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment they are contributing something back to society. Many trustees say that serving on a board is the best education they ever receive; dealing with real and often complex statutory, fiduciary and strategic issues.

So what does the role entail?

Trustees are responsible for everything a charity does and can be held legally accountable for the decisions they make. There are risks and liabilities, so it is essential for individuals to undertake due diligence and research into an organisation before they accept a position and to recognise it is a serious role.

One initiative increasingly being adopted by companies looking to promote trustee opportunities to employees is Step on Board, a board-level volunteering programme, run by Trustees Unlimited and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations.

Step on Board helps senior employees from the private sector become trustees and non-executives on the boards of charities and organisations with a social or environmental mission. Adobe Systems is the latest company to adopt this approach to leadership development, joining Barclays, Google, PA Consulting, Mishcon de Reya, Credit Suisse and others.

One charity to have benefited from recruiting a trustee through Step on Board is The Microloan Foundation, a charity that helps women in sub-Saharan Africa break the cycle of poverty by providing loans, training and support to help them set up their own business.

The charity was looking for a trustee with good media skills to help promote its message and raise its profile. They selected media lawyer Dina Shiloh who had participated in the Step on Board programme through her former law firm, Mishcon de Reya. Now a partner at Gallant Maxwell, Shiloh is a media expert having also previously worked as a print and radio journalist, and a television producer for CNN, NBC and the BBC.

Encouraging employees to become trustees is a win-win situation for all involved. Charities can access professional skills they may not otherwise be able to. Companies recognise that trusteeships are a great way for their staff to share their skills, while also offering them an exciting, alternative professional development opportunity, providing them with skills they couldn’t pick up from traditional management training.

Ian Joseph is chief executive at Trustees Unlimited and managing director of Russam GMS