For Trustees Week, Frank Gould tells TFN how trustees should always remember it's not about them but the cause.
Since the day I left school at 16 I’ve never been out of work. So when the spectre of retirement was hovering over me, I suddenly began to panic and worried what I’d do to fill the void.
Retirement isn’t easy if you’ve spent the vast majority of your life in work. I was employed as a draughtsman first in the shipyards then in more general engineering and worked in a variety of positions, eventually becoming an assistant director with my last firm.
So, fearing I’d be left out on a limb I started to contact organisations who could help assist me find something to do when I retired.
Before long I was put in touch with YouthWorks in Fife. It was small charity running a drop-in centre for young people aged 11-18 at night and during the day. Basically it was being run as a village hall but the group desperately needed expertise in how to manage the operation – something it lacked.
So I joined, became chair and I’ve been there ever since.
The first thing I did was start recruiting a new board. It wasn’t easy: I told potential recruits it needed commitment and if there was a chance they wouldn’t be able to attend all the meetings I’d planned – in effect one a month – then they wouldn’t be right for the organisation.
Might sound a bit harsh but commitment is key: too many small charities have boards that fail to run things effectively because trustees can’t be bothered turning up. I was determined YouthWorks would not to be one of those.
I’m now chair and can safely say it’s the best choice – next to marrying my wife – I’ve ever taken in life.
It’s not without its challenges. When I first joined it was 35k in debt, had a leaking roof and was very disorganised. I just think the whole set-up needed a fresh perspective from the outside – someone who could look at it and take an impartial view of things.
That’s a big part of the problem. Small charities can become too embroiled with their own politics; sometimes the board members have been there for years and frictions as well as a bit of bad blood is certainly not unusual.
You’ve got to rise above it and remember it’s not about the trustees, it’s about the organisation.
I didn’t envisage the scale of the task I had before me before joining the charity. I had never applied for funding before, knew nothing about charity constitutions or regulation but I do know about management.
If you ask me what’s the most essential skill a trustee can bring to a charity I would definitely say resourcefulness. A board should have a good mix of skills and experience but it also needs individuals who are proactive – people who see solutions not problems. So being resourceful means there’s always a solution to a problem.
In my three years at YouthWorks we’ve never had an insurmountable problem. Funding has made us cut our cloth accordingly but, even then you realise less can actually be more.
I’m busier in retirement than I was when working full-time. That’s the way I like it. If you want to become a trustee of a charity by all means do. But make sure you have the right motivation.
Don’t do it unless you can genuinely add value to the organisation and are prepared to go the extra mile for the charity – and not for your own gain.