A trustee’s experience

Price Bailey’s ethos, ‘It’s all about you’, is based on building relationships with trustees to provide the advice and assistance needed to enable them to focus on delivering their strategy. To help us gain a better perspective on the experiences of trustees, we interviewed Alice Marshall-Chalk, Manager at Price Bailey, to provide us with some insight on her own experiences as a trustee of a local charity.

What drove you to get involved and become a trustee of a local charity?

Initially, it was an ‘email to all’ from a colleague at Price Bailey. “Is anyone interested in helping a local charity by becoming a trustee?”

I had recently decided to specialise more in the not-for-profit sector as part of my role at the firm and saw an opportunity to become involved in a charity which I had an interest, so I replied “yes” to the email.  Having just had a change in personal situation too, I had plenty of time on my hands and felt that this could be put to good use in my community.

I was put in touch with the chair of the charity and we arranged for me to pop in one Saturday when they were having a training session. Everyone was very welcoming and I met trustees and staff as well as volunteers. We talked about the charity’s objectives, what they were looking to achieve and the difference their activities made to people’s lives. I felt keen to be involved, despite being unsure how I could be of assistance, having never been a trustee before.

How did you approach learning about the organisation?

I was opted onto the board at the next trustee meeting, and became part of the finance committee too, given my experience at work. Following my induction, I started to attend the eight-weekly meetings. At first, I was very nervous, I was unsure of how to contribute, and mainly just listened and took notes. Sometimes others talked in abbreviations and I didn’t know what they were referring to. I was not sure if that was due to not fully understanding the organisation yet, or not understanding my role as trustee. In hindsight, both applied.

How has your experience so far allowed you to contribute to the charity as a trustee?

While I was still learning about the charity and my role within it, the board stuck with me, so to speak, and slowly I grew in confidence and started to be able to ask questions when I needed clarification. I got to grips with what we were doing, how we were doing it, what was going well and what worried us. I started to refer to “us” when talking about the organisation, rather than “you”. I felt more and more attached to the cause and that I could contribute in my own way.

We have a diverse skill set on the board, with a diverse range of characters too. Some are more forthcoming than others, some more vocal, some more meticulous, some more challenging, and we all bring expertise from our respective professional sectors: health, service delivery, commissioning, business, finance. In some meetings, for example when we are talking about service delivery, my opinion is that of a ‘lay-person’, I just see things from an outsider’s perspective which helps bring balance to the discussion, and I rely on the professionalism of those who understand to make informed decisions. In other meetings, we talk about financial reserves, income, sustainability and planning for the future. This is where I lead more on the discussions to help my non-financial colleagues understand the challenges and risks we need to make decisions on. Then when it comes to that time of year to draft the financial statements, well, I’m in my element! I apply everything I know from my ‘day job’, giving my all and dedicating time to ensuring that the financial statements are compliant but also reflect well on the organisation.  

What has been the greatest challenge you have faced so far as a trustee of a local charity?

I would say that the hardest thing about being a trustee is also its advantage. Sometimes all you want to do is get on with the work yourself, to help and to be hands on. However that is not a trustee’s role. If I were to be too involved, the whole essence of being a trustee, that sense of detachment and oversight, would be lost.

So for me, it is a balancing act. I aim to spend time on the charity’s premises when covid allows, with the staff and volunteers, so that they know who I am. I am reliable, I can lend a listening ear, and I understand the quirks and characteristics that underpin what we do. On the other hand, it’s about being strategic, bringing my personal skill set to the table and applying everything I have learnt from my professional world and from those around me. It really is amazing what we can do together.

Charity future planning

How would you sum up your journey as a trustee so far?

I have been in my role for a few years now. Things have changed somewhat in my personal life which means I have less time to dedicate to my trustee role compared to when I first started out.  However, I have learnt that asking questions is the most valuable thing I can do as a trustee. Have we thought about this? What are the VAT implications of that? Have we considered the impact of stopping doing this? Why have costs reduced when we are trying to grow? Why haven’t we considered that aspect?  Even the ‘silly’ questions can sometimes bring about some important discussions between management and trustees, and I have learnt not to be afraid to ask.

I have never stopped learning in my role, whether that be from fellow trustees, staff, beneficiaries and volunteers. I do not believe you can be taught to be a trustee – it is all about the experience you have gained, and it is that experience you bring to the table. There is plenty of guidance – like CC3 from the Charity Commission, which informs you of your roles and responsibilities – but nothing compares to actually being involved as a trustee.

Charities are often looking for new trustees, so if you are interested, this is a great way to become involved in your community.

If you are considering becoming a trustee and not sure what the best option is for you, or have any questions, please contact Alice Marshall-Chalk on the form below.

We always recommend that you seek advice from a suitably qualified adviser before taking any action. The information in this article only serves as a guide and no responsibility for loss occasioned by any person acting or refraining from action as a result of this material can be accepted by the authors or the firm.

 

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