Trustees are essential for any charity – they are, after all, the source of governance and oversight for your organisation: you can’t operate without them. For most small rare disease patient groups trustees are often not only the people providing oversight and strategy, but also doing the work of the organisation. Finding trustees to form a new organisation can be challenging, and many groups turn to friends and family to help them get up and running. This often means that charity boards have a limited range of experience, and limited time. It is not uncommon for one or two individuals to complete the bulk of the work of the board or charity.

With this background in mind, on Wednesday the 22nd of April we ran another training webinar focused exclusively on charity trustees – how to recruit them successfully and how to get the most from your board. The session was really interesting and engaging, in no small part due to our excellent guest speakers: Penny Wilson from Getting on Board, a charity dedicated to trustee recruitment, and Madeleine Cassidy, the Vice Chair of the Small Charities Coalition.

After a nice welcome and introduction from Findacure’s new webinar Queen, Phil, I gave a brief introduction to the role of a trustee. In it I cited the basic guidance and information available from the Charity Commission of England and Wales, and tried to highlight the way the trustee role may be implemented in patient groups. Despite this type of guidance, only around 14% of charities in the UK feel well equipped to meet their strategic needs over the next three years – expanding the skills and engagement of your board is one way to help with this type of challenge.

Penny’s talk really delved into the challenges of trustee recruitment. Her organisation focusses exclusively on this challenge and they advocate strongly for an open application process for trustee recruitment. While this can be challenging for organisations when they are looking to form, it is certainly an approach that can yield incredibly positive results. Essentially it gives your organisation the opportunity to target specific skill sets for your board and grow your expertise. By running an application process you are also in the unusual position where people are coming to you and asking to become trustees – this means that they are more open to committing time and effort to the role, rather than doing it at a favour to the organisation. Findacure went through a trustee recruitment process last year based on the training that Getting On Board provided, and it was a real success for us and helped to bring two new people with crucial new skills in to the charity.

Penny’s talk focussed firstly on how you can go about identifying the skills that you need on your board. This essentially involves conducting a skills audit of your current team and comparing it to your strategic aims moving forward. Where could you benefit from extra knowledge and support? What types of experience or background would really benefit your organisation in completing its mission? From here you need to be able to define the role of a trustee and the skills you need and advertise. Penny provided some great examples of advertisements for trusteeships and helped everyone to see what the important things are to attract applicants. After covering this content in a whistle-stop tour, Penny closed by giving us some ideas about the different places to advertise, both to a generalised audience, and a more targeted pool of people.

After Penny’s fantastic overview of trustee recruitment, we were really pleased to welcome Madeleine Cassidy, to share her insights into getting the most from your Trustee board. Maddy is an old friend of Findacure, having shared an office with us in one of her previous roles, and has a wealth of experience as a charity CEO, a trustee, and with her involvement with the Small Charities Coalition. Maddy gave a fantastic round up of some of the challenges that people running an organisation, whether they be a CEO or Chairperson, can have with boards. Crucially though, her talk gave some excellent and simple tips on how to tackle these and make a difference to your board’s operation. Many of these focus on having a clear plan in place for the charity, clear roles, boundaries and responsibilities across the board, and making time to value everyone’s contributions.

This webinar was a real pleasure to be a part of and we received some great feedback on the session. If you missed out, fear not, the whole session is available to watch back at your leisure on our YouTube channel, and we’ll soon have a version with full subtitles in place. You can also learn more about trustee recruitment from Getting On Board’s free trustee recruitment guide available here.