Many senior level professionals want to give something back to society and a growing number are doing this by offering their time, skills and expertise by becoming a charity trustee. Charities need a diverse range of skills on their boards and HR experience is something many charities value.
One senior executive with a background in HR, change management and coaching who has great trustee experience is Fiona Fisher, a freelance organisational development and design consultant. Fiona works at board level as an executive director and a non-executive trustee, and her career spans both the public and private sectors.
Fiona decided to become a trustee in 2008 when she left her role as Director of Organisational Development at Amnesty International to become a freelance consultant. She still wanted to contribute to the voluntary sector and thought that becoming a trustee would be a fantastic way to do this.
She joined the board of Skills Effect (formerly Skills – Third Sector) – an organisation which provides practical, innovative and accessible solutions to promote the development of a highly skilled, effective and adaptable civil society workforce.
Fiona’s view is that one of the major benefits of trusteeship is that people get an excellent strategic perspective and an opportunity to learn about different expertise across an organisation. Working in the voluntary sector can be different from the commercial world, so the experience people gain is hugely worthwhile. Charities benefit too from having people with more diverse skills on their boards.
Having HR skills on the board can be valuable for charities. Fiona points out HR expertise can help Trustee colleagues to ask the right questions to ensure that all the organisational risk associated with people are considered and mitigated. In addition to advising on general HR issues, HRs can also make a difference by helping charities improve their employee engagement. This is often a challenging area as many organisations have a mix of employees and volunteers working with them.
What about tips for new trustees?
Fiona believes that it is essential new trustees understand the charity’s objectives and purpose as it is important that everyone is coming from the same perspective.
Understanding the time commitment is also important – a trustee role won’t necessarily fit neatly around a normal timetable. People need to ensure they know how much time they will need to commit and ensure they can fit it in.
Another tip is to remember is that trustees are ambassadors for their charity and they should always keep an eye open for any opportunities that may be of interest to the charity
How can HRs become trustees?
One way that HR professionals can become charity trustees is by applying for roles through specialist recruitment agencies like Trustees Unlimited. We also run a board-level volunteering programme called, ‘Step on Board’ which many leading companies including Google, PA Consulting and Credit Suisse are undertaking to develop their employees.
Step on Board is run jointly by Trustees Unlimited and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and helps senior employees from the private sector to become trustees and non-executives on the boards of charities and organisations with a social or environmental mission.
There is a growing interest amongst corporates to work more with the voluntary sector and promoting trusteeships can be a fantastic way of doing this. Many HR managers are recognising that encouraging staff to undertake voluntary work can enhance their skills set, expose them to new ways of working and thinking
There are huge benefits for charities. As most charities are run on limited resources, bringing in professionals from outside the sector can help develop their strategy and ensure their talent and resources are used in best way that supports their mission and purpose.