We’re going to walk you through some tips for “consolidating” your Trustee practice but in preparation, here’s a collection of interviews with our super-Trustees on the topic of the challenges you’ll face:
Now that you’ve gotten to know your organisation and the role of Trustee, its time to change gears a bit from your reflective and studious self, to the more active role. We’re suggesting that the headspace you embody is of a Passionate Advocate, and a Deep Thinker.
Passionate Advocate: You are one of the most effective representatives of your organisation. You hold its ideals and dreams close to your heart and you can’t wait to tell anyone and everyone about why they should be excited about it too. Your headspace should be one of passion and drive, looking for opportunities to advocate for your organisation, its work, and its people.
Deep Thinking: Part of your value to the exec and the organisation is as an extra brain in the thinking-machine which is the board. You exist as a group to support and steer the decision making of the organisation. The issues affecting those decisions require deep thought and consideration. You should embrace the headspace of the deep thinker oh wise one.
So what knowledge should you have in place to make sure you’re immersing yourself in this Trustee thing properly. You’re consolidating, emerging into your practice, the basics aren’t enough anymore. What comes next?
Well, something we keep banging on about is the idea of the board as a team, not a collection of impressive individuals. There’s no value in having a group of very clever people sat together if they aren’t bringing their collective powers to bear on the problem at hand.
But how do you, as an individual, contribute to the idea of “board as team”
Good teams understand and draw on the special strengths of each member. To do that well you need to explore and understand the individual strengths of your colleague board-members.
So how well do you know the strengths of your fellow board members? We suggest using this very simple tool, the Trustee Strengths Profile.
There’s a lot more to be done on the subject of board as team, but this is all about you. For more on overall board development, you can refer to our curated resources.
So, you have an understanding of your team-members strengths, and have spent a little time thinking about how to draw those out. But what about your own contribution? What value do you bring to the board and the organisation?
It is part of the responsibilities of the Chair of the board to support and develop their Trustees, to bring out their best for the organisation. We suggest arranging a conversation with your Chair (or failing that, the Chief Executive) to explore this topic.
Asking “what are my strengths” is too broad. There are whole websites, courses, and books out there for you to delve into the deep existential question of “who am I”...which is great, but we need something a little more focused. Instead…
With your Chair or CEO, identify 1 to 3 SMART objectives for the next year of your Trusteeship.
Then, with reference to those objectives, work through a SWOT analysis together.
You should now have identified the strengths you will draw on, the weaknesses you need to work on or around, and the opportunities and threats you face. This should help you map out your approach over the next year of your Trusteeship.
You should now have a plan for how you better understand yourself and your colleagues for the benefit of your organisation. Speaking of the organisation, shouldn’t you also be working on your understanding of it as well?
A deep understanding of the organisation is the hallmark of a good Trustee, and all your skills and knowledge are blunt without it. To develop that deep understanding, you will need:
The case for support: what’s that? It’s summed up quite nicely by benefactor group here.
Personal immersion: Regular experience of what your organisation is putting out in the world - the art, workshops, events, publications.
In short, you should be able, at the drop of a hat, to talk about your organisation passionately, in detail, with up-to-date information and understanding. You should know the key ideas and messages at the top of your thinking (drawn from the case for support), and this should be underpinned by your personal experience of the organisation, how it has touched and affected you.
This deep understanding should help you embrace what we’ve called “the art of the board”, a topic our super-Trustees have explored here:
If you don’t have an up-to-scratch case for support, perhaps this is a special project you could initiate? It really is an essential resource for any not-for-profit organisation. There are plenty of resources out there, but if you need help, then get in touch with us.
If you aren’t currently immersed in your organisation, have a conversation with your executive about opportunities to be more involved.
The final bit of essential knowledge for the “consolidating” Trustee is a detailed understanding of your duties as a Trustee. The charity commission have published this fun (sort of) quiz for you to have a go at.
That’s everything on knowledge. Nice one. What’s next?
At this stage, it’s really about decision making.
Isn’t it weird how little we seem to talk about decision making when it comes to Trustees and boards? Especially given that its pretty much the job - to make and help make decisions for the benefit of your organisation.
We spend so much time looking at all the different aspects of governance that orbit around this one central idea of decision making. Skills audits. Member diversity. Reporting frameworks and strategy. They all come to the one point in the room - the decisions you make as a board.
But what aids good decision making?
...maybe you have thought about this, maybe it’s a regular agenda item for your board. But if its not...
Pause for a second and ask yourself - what have you done to improve your decision making and that of your board? What’s the best way to approach improving it?
We love this presentation from Bret Wilson, and think it introduces some good points and ideas around board decision making.