Widening your Perspective: Advice to a Prospective Trustee from a Trustee

Policy Letters of Advice - Debate 2023, News

Dear Prospective Volunteer Trustee,

You told me that after a number years in your museum job you want widen your experience to help you prepare for a different or more senior role in the future. Have you considered becoming a trustee of an independent museum or another heritage, cultural or community arts organisation?   

Charity trustees are volunteers who oversee the running of their organisation and have the responsibility to make sure it is effective in delivering its aims, is acting legally and manages its finances properly. That may sound scary but remember you would usually be part of a board of 9 to 12 trustees who each bring different skills and experiences to the role. There is also a wealth of advice available and you should receive an induction when you join. 

As a board member you would learn about governance, planning and decision making.  Although some are volunteer run many organisations have paid staff who are responsible for the day to day business.  Typically boards meet every 2 or 3 months and nowadays this is often done remotely, although some face to face meetings including the AGM are to be expected. Many trustees have jobs so are aware of the demands on your time.  But do make sure when you apply that you can meet the time requirements of the role. You may also be involved in work of a sub-committee where you can bring your own experience to the table.   

At a board meeting members discuss the papers (make sure you make time to read and prepare!) and come to joint decisions so it’s a great opportunity to learn about working collaboratively and taking collective responsibility – even if the outcome is not always your preferred one.   

You may think that you are too young to be a board member, and indeed most board members tend to be older than you, but organisations are keen to diversify their board and younger people with fresh new ideas are in demand!  Trustees need only be over 18.  

Think about what you can bring. You should be keen to support the charity meet its objectives.  However it need not be directly related to your own profession area of expertise – something a bit tangential might even be helpful in widening your view of the sector and remember in most cases board members do not directly deliver the service themselves.  

I recommend that you read The Essential Trustee on the Charity Commission’s website which explains that the roles and responsibilities are.  You can also find useful information on the websites of Reach Volunteering and the National Council of Voluntary Organisations (NCVO).  

To find a position you could look on the AIM website, which has a section for advertising for trustees. The Reach Volunteering website advertises for all types of trustee roles but you can search for particular sectors and by region.  Your local community volunteering group may know of opportunities. And of course if you know of a charity you would particularly like to work with you can look on their website to learn about their board and approach them directly.   Let people know you are interested in joining a board, particularly those who do it themselves as they may hear about opportunities too.   

Alex Walker

Chair of Trustees, Elizabeth Gaskell’s House