The role of the Trustee

Published: 5th November 2021

The role of the Trustee

We were delighted to hear in Trustees’ week from David Wilkin, Chair at Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice. 

"The third sector has seen and experienced some dramatic changes over the past years and the role of the Trustee/Non-Executive Director plays within this sector has become increasingly visible and more important to a much wider audience of stakeholders. Third sector organisations are experiencing challenging times, which in some ways the pandemic has brought to the fore but were always going to have an impact at some point.

Good and effective organisational governance has and always will be at the centre of what makes any organisation great. The effectiveness of Board level strategic leadership can never be underestimated in any sector be it commercial or charitable.

To meet the need of a changing environment the more progressive third sector organisations have recognised the advantages and benefits that come from having an effective, appropriately skilled and trained professional Board of Trustees. As such, the role of a Trustee has fundamentally changed to become one where effective input, active and appropriate challenge and support at a strategic level has been key to working with and supporting the Executive Leadership, to develop and deliver strategies to secure a sustainable future for the organisation.

Effectively delivering in the role of Trustee/Non-Executive Director can be challenging, coming from a commercial background it was difficult for me initially to ween myself away from the day to day processes and operations, as normally this is where the easy wins can be found. Once you grasp this, it is all about understanding and recognising where the experience and skills you have can really add value from a strategic leadership perspective. After all, most of us take on the role as a volunteer and personally if I am giving up my time, I really need to see that I am being effective and delivering something to develop both the organisation and myself.

Accountability is a key measure for good effective governance and the role of the Trustees in challenging and holding the Executive Leadership to account, in a professional and supportive way, has never in my mind been more important. The role of the Trustees is an important part of the mix when developing a strategy and Trustees need to play an effective part in supporting and challenging the Executive Leadership and the organisation during the process of developing and implementing the strategy for the organisation.

Within the governance structure there is always some debate in how involved the Trustees are in developing the strategy of a Charity. In my experience I have found the best result comes from a position where Trustees are visible throughout the organisation, during the development of the strategy, yet the strategy is driven by the Executive Leadership team in a way that it belongs to the organisation as a whole. The key role of the Trustees can then be effectively questioning the reasoning behind the strategy, before signed off by the Board of Trustees as being realistic and achievable. The prime role then must be in monitoring and challenging the CEO, Leadership and the whole organisation in delivering on this agreed and approved strategy.

In many Charities passion will always play a key part in defining the culture. All too often the passion within the organisation is purely channelled into developing the activities of Charity, with the business function taking second place, when this passion is aligned with the strategy this is where I personally have seen organisations thrive.

Being an effective Trustee and Chair involves ensuring the organisation recognises this passion and taps into it, to the benefit of the Charity, but also to drive the more commercial aspects of business ultimately enabling the Charity to deliver on its ‘raison d’etre’ i.e., the Charitable objectives. From experience, when you do get this balance right and because of the passion involved at all levels, it is an absolutely wonderful and rewarding feeling, which ultimately drives and delivers outcomes and excellence."

David Wilkin, Chair – Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice

If you would like further information, are thinking about recruiting for Trustees or if you would be interested in becoming a Trustee, please contact Paula Barber at Brewster Partners.