Up for a challenge, part of the team, good at listening – here are some top traits of good trustees
Trustees are the face of your organisation. Sometimes they are also steering from behind the scenes. For the most part, they help guide charities by providing sound advice and opening doors when it comes to fundraising.
While you might already know some excellent trustees, it is important to define what makes an outstanding one. From our vantage point, here are the top five traits of a good trustee.
One of the most important traits of a good trustee is that they are not afraid to rock the boat. The right person counters charity managers and executive officers on important matters. Penny Wilson, chief executive of Getting on Board and writing for the Third Sector, says that an effective trustee challenges with good intent.
In practice, trustees offer alternative view points and are tasked with asking the difficult questions. They may query why a digital transformation project has been delayed or gone over budget.
Ahead of executing a strategy, they may also challenge senior digital leaders as to how a plan may work in practice. Bond UK summarises the challenger trustee well. They say that: “Part of the job of a trustee is to scrutinise: constantly probing, pushing and asking questions and not accepting poor answers or being fobbed off.”
Ultimately, outstanding trustees keep senior digital managers on their toes.
Trustees listen to staff, management, volunteers, and donors. They anchor a charity’s purpose and mission with wider audiences.
A good trustee considers these voices and involves them in the decision-making process. A benefit for everyone, exceptional trustees also know how to translate what they have seen and heard into operational matters.
For charities, it’s important that trustees keep an open mind. NPC’s report on what trustees are talking about is telling. They report that two-thirds of the Samaritans’ trustees are actively listening to volunteers. These voices ensure that the trustees are “grounded in the charity’s day-to-day work and builds a sense of common purpose with the rest of the organisation”.
While trustees are experts with their own interests, a good one sets those things aside. They are team players and work together for the benefit of their charity.
As part of the ‘The Good Trustee Guide,’ the NCVO says trustees should work well on their own and as part of a team.
Together, trustees ensure that there is diversity of thought and representation. For charity boards, diversity is important because it can help the organisation stay agile, remain inclusive, and redress imbalances in power.
CAF points out that trustees also play a role in a charity’s digital fundraising efforts. Despite the myth that trustees don’t get involved in fundraising efforts, CAF says that they should, and can work together on the strategy, ethical framework, and operational aspects.
In practice, trustees don’t have to go soliciting funds or donate themselves. What they can do as ambassadors is enhance the cause in person or digitally by sharing their experiences and participate in social media campaigns.
Trustees are experts in their field and have relevant industry experience. They may have been trustees before, held prominent positions in the charitable sector, or worked in the field.
For trustees who aren’t experts in the charity’s field or purpose, they have a duty to find out. Good trustees make it a point to learn what they can about their charity.
Trustees might also be well recognised in their profession. Charity Digital trustee Zoe Amar’s work has impact within the sector as a whole. She has worked with the NCVO, The Charity Commission, The Small Charities Coalition and more.
Zoe is an accomplished digital tech expert and has founded her own digital agency. Her experiences make her well positioned to advise and represent Charity Digital.
A good trustee also knows what they are doing within the framework of their role. At a basic level, they should understand and know how to act as described by The Charity Commission.
The regulator’s ‘The essential trustee’ guidance sets out six main duties:
The guidance describes how good trustees make informed decisions. They are also familiar with the legal and reporting requirements. New trustees have an obligation to find out what they need to do to ensure that they lead in the right direction.