Being in charge of the charity, volunteering their time, and working together to make important decisions, trustees have a vital role to play in the success of an organisation. Trustees are also vital in supporting the director in their work and shaping the direction of the organisation. However, some organisations become victims of trustee fatigue. So, to mark Trustees Week, here are four key points to keeping your board fresh.
- Develop your board
Board development both in the sense of working with the trustees to inspire and enthuse them whilst giving them clear roles to play, and in the sense of looking at the talent the board currently needs, is essential and can be done by writing job descriptions and person specs then setting up a recruitment panel and process to ensure that the right talent is brought onto the board. A key part of this is determining the length of time anyone should serve on the board, and when they can reapply. Often now boards work on three-year terms with one reapplication and even that means groups of trustees can often serve for six years, which is enough to zombify anyone. An active chair should ensure that either elections are held that really work, or if this is not the organisation’s selection process, then those who are not pulling their weight can be both approached to stand down.
- Cultivate individual trustees
Individual trustees can be great allies to a director, so cultivating a positive relationship is really important. Different from lobbying, sounding out individual trustees about important changes in an organisation is an invaluable exercise. Having a friendly trustee give a positive message early in any debate can often swing a set of trustees to get behind that approach, as your friendly trustee gives them the cover and confidence to disagree with someone else’s point of view.
- Get bums on seats
Actually getting board members to attend meetings on a regular basis is sometimes a chore, but often simply solved by a policy on attendance, whereby people are automatically off the board if they miss more than say, two board meetings a year. Once people begin to attend regularly the chances are that their involvement and understanding of issues will improve and they become motivated about the work of the organisation.
- Give, get or get off
In the UK we may look in admiration at the US with their culture of ‘Give, Get or Get Off’ in relation to fundraising at board level, but the majority of board members don’t give there either, and though some should and can be encouraged to give others may be there for their skills or experiences and these are equally valuable. This applies less when the board is selected for their ability to give and their agreement to get, but do not forget that they also need considerably more talent than a large bank balance, as once having given substantially, may see this as their contribution or indeed as giving them a right to be pushy or unpleasant as they have ‘bought the organisation’ and can now tell it what to do.