Why charity trusteeships are so rewarding

It’s Trustees’ Week (7-11 November), an annual event that celebrates the achievements of over one million trustees across the UK. This year the theme is ‘making a difference in changing times.’ As the UK faces a tough economic environment, after the challenges of the pandemic years, charities continue to feel the financial impact. Trustees are therefore more important than ever to steer charities through the difficult times ahead.

A report published earlier this year on the key challenges facing charity trustees by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) and the chartered accountancy body ICAEW outlined six key challenges including financial resilience, support and training for trustees and board diversity1.

As an auditing firm working exclusively with charities and social purpose organisations, we actively encourage our team to take on trustee roles. As finance professionals, they have a lot to offer a charity board in terms of their financial and business skills. We see this as a key part of our mission to support a strong and effective charity sector.

Our team members benefit too – they gain greater insight into the charity and its work which goes way beyond their accounts and audits, and the experience helps with their career progression. They learn how to work at a strategic board level and with people from all walks of life.

Here’s some views from our colleagues who are trustees about what their motivations were to becoming a trustee and what they have learnt.

Lawrence Ryden – Auditor

I joined Sayer Vincent as a trainee in 2017 and qualified in 2020. Around this time, I decided to become a trustee and joined the charity, Elders Voice, which promotes the interests of older people living in the London Borough of Brent.

I wanted to become a trustee as I spend a lot of time in my job with charities and reading trustee board minutes, so wanted to see what it was like to be on the other side.

I was interested to learn more about charity governance and to mix with people from different backgrounds who weren’t necessarily finance people. Elders Voice was a local charity which was appealing, and I have an interest in health and social care.

I’m the treasurer and spend a lot of time chatting about financial issues and using my experience to guide the other trustees. The board is pretty diverse – I’m in my mid 30s and I’m one of the youngest and the Chair is in his 80s. There is a good mix of backgrounds too which I believe makes for much better decision making.

I really enjoy being part of a dynamic board and working through issues together. We’re all working for the same purpose and have a very collaborative approach. The role has taught me a great deal about how charities are governed. I understand the organisation and the people behind the numbers which I find really interesting. Knowing I’m making a difference in someone’s life is really rewarding.

Vivien Ma – Senior Manager

I took on my first trusteeship in 2019 with the charity, Solace Women’s Aid, which has supported women and children in London to build safe and strong lives, free from male abuse and violence for over 50 years.

I knew of the charity as they were one of Sayer Vincent’s clients for a long time. In fact I was their audit manager from 2008 to 2011! After being their auditors for 10 years, for good practice they changed auditors in 2018/19.

In 2019 Solace got in touch with SV that they were looking for new trustees. As it so happened, I was looking for opportunities to become a trustee at the time. I have a strong motivation to do more and use my skills to help out where I can in the charitable sector. I’ve worked in the sector for many years and giving something back is very important to me and so this was an ideal opportunity. Furthermore I had always admired what Solace did during my time as their audit manager and their values aligned with mine.

The Solace board is striving to become more diverse. I joined the board with three other new trustees who were all from a diverse ethnic background.

I really enjoy the breadth of issues we cover, from finance and HR to service delivery and marketing. The conversations are not just about finance, and I’ve gained more of an understanding that money is just the enabler. It’s what the charity does to help women and children which is most important.

As an auditor it can sometimes be hard not to get wrapped up in the numbers. Being on the board has enabled me to realise the money is just a means to an end. I’ve also become more forward looking and strategic.

The conversations we have are insightful as everyone on the board has different experiences and knowledge. I have a deeper appreciation for the relationship between the board and senior management, as well as gaining more of an insight of what a board does and the role of audit within it. I’m able to see the bigger picture which is also really useful to support my clients in my role as their auditors.

JoAnna Bowles – Chief Operating Officer

I joined the Sayer Vincent team in 2021 to oversee the strategic and operational running of the business as the firm expands.

I’ve done other voluntary work in the past including being a treasurer for a local homeless charity, to working in a COVID testing centre and a school in Cambodia. I am also currently a school governor.

I took on my first trustee role two years ago whilst I was on ‘gardening leave’ from my previous employer and wanted to keep busy. I joined Home Start Portsmouth, close to where I live, which is a local community network of trained volunteers promoting the welfare of families in the city.

The charity provides emotional and practical support to families with trained home-visiting volunteers, stay and play groups and expert support to help parents and their children through their most challenging times.

The charity wanted a trustee with a business background and someone to be able to offer strategic financial advice, as most people in the organisation are from a health and social care background.

The board consists of around ten trustees and it’s a hands-on role. It’s a management board so the people working and volunteering report into the chair. This is one of the challenges now for me as I’m now back working full-time. It can be difficult to get everything done and I always want to do more than I’m physically able.

I became a trustee as I’ve always been volunteer minded and believe we should all give back if we can. I really enjoy the role as I see things from such a wide variety of different perspectives.

I also enjoy being able to use my business skills in a sector where they are really valued. It’s easy for trustees with a business background to do things such as project plans, devise marketing campaigns and design job descriptions, and these are the sorts of areas where the charity appreciates help and guidance.

Volunteering as a trustee is a really tangible way for finance and business professionals to make a difference and I’d encourage anyone thinking about doing it to go for it. There are so many charities crying out for trustees and it’s a great way for people of all ages, backgrounds and gender to gain board level experience.

1 https://fundraising.co.uk/2022/03/08/diversity-digital-among-key-challenges-for-trustees-research-shows/