Trustees Week 2021 – Trustee Q&A

Why be a Charity Trustee?

There are over 1 million charity Trustees in the UK who play a pivotal role in the success of their charities.

MHA Non-for-Profit sector specialist, Fiona Westwood, has many years of experience as a charity trustee and is incredibly passionate about her role. In this rapid-fire Q&A, Fiona explains what she loves about her role, how it helps her to relate to her clients, and the lessons she learnt as a trustee during the pandemic.

What made you want to become a charity Trustee, and what have you gained?

Fiona Westwood

I wanted to give something back to the local and national community and share my skills. I am involved with an organisation that supports an issue I’m truly passionate about, and I’ve learnt so much from other people with different skills to mine, for example learning to effectively chair meetings.

What does being a Trustee involve?

There is the overall statutory duties of safeguarding the assets of the charity. We develop the strategy for the charity on how best to use the assets and skills for its beneficiaries and stakeholders. We work alongside the executive team to provide support, but also challenge them as they implement the strategy on a day-to-day basis.

What advice would you give to anyone starting out as a Trustee?

Bring your whole self to the charity, and don’t forget the skills you use in your day job. Don’t be afraid to ask questions (others will probably have similar questions) and take every opportunity to be an ambassador for your charity.

What are the barriers to people becoming Trustees, in your experience?

The lack of knowledge about what is involved, but also lack of confidence that they won’t have the skills needed.

How has being a Trustee given you an insight into the challenges your clients in the not-for-profit sector face?

I’m in their shoes and so understand the risks and challenges they are facing. Being able to share my own personal insights and experiences from my role as a trustee with my charity clients is a huge benefit as it demonstrates my wider experience in the sector.

What were the 3 key lessons you learned during the Covid-19 pandemic that you think would benefit other trustees in their roles?

  1. The importance of the investment in IT as ‘business as usual’.
    Whether that’s supporting colleagues in working remotely or engaging with stakeholders, up-to-date IT is fundamental to the ongoing success of charities.
  2. The need to be agile.
    Whether that’s having regular meetings to keep up to date on operations/financial results, or being able to respond quickly to the needs of beneficiaries, and therefore agree best use of funds.
  3. Always have the long-term strategy in your mind when making decisions.
    Whilst many short-term decisions inevitably had to be made as we responded to Covid-19, the long-term sustainability of the charity is fundamental for its longevity. For example, take care in use of reserves (they are not an unending pot), and also in chasing funds which may not deliver the long-term strategy of the charity.

What are the 3 key challenges you anticipate that charities will face in the next 12 months, and can you offer any advice to trustees to manage these challenges?

  1. Financial sustainability – reserves may have been spent to accommodate reductions in fundraising, but if fundraising is at new levels the charity has to be financially sustainable going forward.
  2. Pressure on services – depending on where the charity operates there may be a continued challenge to deliver more for less. For example, pressure on public sector funding and services as the economy recovers and ‘pays for’ the government support during the pandemic.
  3. Adapting to the ‘new normal’ business model – beneficiaries may expect their services to be delivered in a new way going forward, staff will want more flexible working. Charities need to think about how this will work for them and their beneficiaries.

MHA Trustee Hub – resources at your fingertips

At MHA we have been supporting our clients in the charity sector for many years and we have plenty of practical guidance to share so that charity governance and financial competency can be improved. 

If you are a Trustee yourself, please visit the MHA Trustee Hub for templates, policies, checklists and more!

Contact us

If you have any questions about the topics raised in this article or would like to discuss your charities accounting and business advisory needs with one of our specialists, please contact a member of the Not for Profit team directly, or alternatively send us an online enquiry.