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113 | The trustee advantage: enhance your HR leadership and make a difference, with Roisin Williams
Episode 1131st December 2023 • HR Coffee Time • Fay Wallis
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Have you set your sights on a senior HR role but feel like you’re missing out on strategic experience in your current job? Or perhaps you’re not confident enough to operate at board level? Bridging this gap could be more fulfilling than you think. Becoming a trustee for a charity is a smart career move that not only sharpens your strategic skills and gives you board-level exposure, it also offers the rewarding opportunity to do meaningful work by supporting a charity. It’s a unique blend of professional growth and contributing to the greater good.

In this episode of HR Coffee Time, host Fay Wallis chats with the insightful Roisin Williams from Job Seeker Coaching. With her rich background as an HR professional, career coach, and seasoned trustee, Roisin unpacks the ins and outs of trusteeship. She’s here to share:

  • A clear breakdown of what it means to be a trustee
  • The real deal on the responsibilities and expectations that come with the title
  • The unexpected upsides of stepping into a trustee role
  • Answers to those niggling doubts and questions you might have
  • Tips on how to kick-start your journey as a trustee

This isn’t just another podcast episode; it’s your invitation to step up, expand your HR horizon, and contribute to a cause that matters. So, why not give it a listen and see where trusteeship could take you?


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Other Relevant HR Coffee Time Episodes

Episode 5: How to progress your HR career (using the 3E model)

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Fay Wallis:

Welcome back to HR Coffee Time. It's great to have you here. I'm your host, Fay Wallis, a career and executive coach with a background in HR, and I'm also the creator of the HR Planner. I've made this podcast especially for you to help you have a successful and fulfilling HR or People career without working yourself into the ground.

If you've set your sights on a senior HR role, perhaps you want to be a People Director or a Chief People Officer, but you feel you're missing out on strategic experience in your current role, or that you're not confident enough operating at board level. Well, this episode is here to help.

I am so grateful to my fabulous guest, Roisin Williams, for getting in touch to offer to cover the topic.

She is going to talk you through how bridging that gap to build your confidence and experience of operating at a senior level can happen by becoming a charity trustee. As she says in the interview that you're about to hear, it's a win win situation. Not only do you get to sharpen your strategic skills and build your confidence, it's also a rewarding opportunity to do meaningful work by supporting a charity.

r. A fellow of the CIPD since:

She is also a qualified NLP practitioner and uses all of these skills and experience to coach clients to interview success through her business, JobSeeker Coaching. I really hope you're going to enjoy learning from Roisin as much as I did. Let's go ahead and meet her now. Welcome to the show, Roisin. It is wonderful to have you here.

Roisin Williams:

Thanks Fay.

Fay Wallis:

I thought I would start off by asking you to just really clarify what a trustee actually is and what a board of trustees actually does, because I know that for some people this might be a little bit hazy if it's not something they've ever considered or done before.

Roisin Williams:

Sure. Yes, I agree. I think there's quite a lot of misunderstanding and sometimes misapprehension about what a board of charity trustees does.

So, essentially, charity trustees are the people who are responsible for the good governance and the strategic direction of the charity. They're sometimes called board members, they can be called committee members, as well as trustees, but they also are often, most times, directors as well. Because most charities within the UK, as well as being registered charities, are also registered at Companies House as being limited organisations.

So, when you are a charity trustee, you are also, by default, a director of a limited company. How charities operate are governed by a body called the Charities Commission and they set down rules about how charities and their trustees can operate and behave. Essentially there are six main responsibilities that each trustee has individually and then collectively as a board.

And they are to ensure the charity is carrying out its purposes for the public benefit. So that basically means doing what your charity says it will do. Complying with your charity's own Governance documents and also the law. Being a limited company means you have to operate within the laws in the UK laws that govern that so there's a bit of a dual responsibility there. You individually and the board of trustees have to act in your charity's best interests So this isn't about personal gain.

You don't get paid as being a charity trustee. You don't get any kind of salary. But in most cases you can claim reasonable expenses. Some charities have quite strict rules on that. You and your other board members have to manage your charity's resources responsibly. So that means how you spend the money, uh, making sure you're making the wisest decisions, both short term and long term.

You have to act with reasonable care and skill. Now this is quite an important one, I think, for people who work in, in HR. You aren't expected to be an expert in areas that you aren't an expert in. But if you come forward as a charity trustee, and you have, professional expertise and knowledge, you are expected to deploy that knowledge in a reasonable manner.

So what that means is if you have a 30 year HR career, you're expected to bring 30 years worth of HR knowledge to the table. If you've only got a five year HR career, then clearly you're not going to have the same breadth of experience, but you are, you have to operate within the level of skill that you have.

So it wouldn't be sufficient to say in any defense to this, Oh, I didn't know what, what I was doing about recruiting people. I'm only the HR person. If you come with that professional knowledge, you have to deploy that for the, for the good of the charity, but you're not expected to provide expertise on areas that are not

in your in your realm. And then finally you have to ensure your charity is accountable. So that's around reporting and providing all the documents that you're required to do on a year by year basis. What this looks like in each charity varies enormously depending on the size of charity and the level of governance that they have.

But what generally it looks like is that you attend board meetings. That's one of the key responsibilities of being a trustee. So you discharge those six responsibilities by attending board meetings. The frequency of those varies. Sometimes it can be once a month, sometimes it can be once a quarter. You have to prepare, you have to read all the notes and the papers that you are given.

So you turn up to the meeting. The meetings last somewhere between two to four hours. Sometimes they can be all day if you've got something really big and pressing that you need to talk about. And you then decide, having debated and discussed all the issues on your agenda, you as a group decide what decisions you are going to make.

In a larger charity, as a trustee, you might also be asked to either sit on or chair some sub committees. So if it's a large charity with large numbers of employees and buildings and different things going on, you might be asked to sit on the Health and Safety Committee, or the Remuneration Committee, or the Estates Committee.

And they have their own board meetings as well, and that just allows... the decision making process to be quicker because those committees make those decisions and then report back to the board. In terms of time commitment, because that's the thing everybody always is concerned about, I think on average it takes about three to four hours a month and that includes all your prep time.

Reading, doing any research that you want to do to make sure that you are informed when you go to the meeting. And then also as a trustee, bear in mind you're likely to be asked to commit to a period of tenure, normally somewhere between two and five years. Um, so it's important that you make a good choice about which charity you want to be a trustee of.

They want you to commit because obviously you're looking at strategic decisions and strategic directions. So they want someone who's there for the long haul. That said, it's a voluntary position. So at any point if your circumstances change or, you move out the area or, you know, people have lives and, and, and all charities, understand that.

So you're not making a legal commitment, but it is, if you like, a sort of personal commitment. And, uh, the other thing that they will expect you to do as a trustee is be an ambassador for that charity. So they will expect you to turn up to fundraising events. Uh, they won't expect you to set up a direct debit or...

support them financially, just your time and expertise is a massive help to them. But it's not just turning up to the board meetings. You will be expected to, potentially spread, spread the word amongst people you know about the charity that you sit as a trustee of.

Fay Wallis:

It's great to have you bring the role to life like that.

So I can just picture it now. I'm imagining I'm a trustee sitting there at that board meeting and contributing to it. And hearing you talk about the fact that you're in those meetings, that you're setting strategic direction, that you're there for your professional skills, I think that will already give everyone listening a clue as to why both of us think it can be such a beneficial thing to do for your career.

I have talked about being a trustee on the podcast before, absolutely ages ago in one of my earliest episodes. And in fact, I would have forgotten that I ever gave that advice on the show, if it hadn't been that one of the listeners got in touch with me to say that after listening to the episode, she became a trustee.

And she was so pleased that she did. So it's wonderful to know that it had an impact. The reason that I've always recommended it is if someone is particularly interested in breaking into a senior level HR role, but they haven't got the senior level experience, or they don't feel they have got quite enough of that senior level experience.

I've always thought it can be a great way of acquiring those skills and getting confident in that space. But I would love to hear from you where you have got much more experience in this area than I have, Roisin. What do you think the benefits are on becoming a trustee?

Roisin Williams:

So I think the benefits of becoming a trustee if you are working in the HR field are, they're both really wide ranging, but also really tangible.

So, you know, you, you can really see and feel yourself develop by becoming involved. In this, in this way, I think like, like you've just said there, I work a lot with HR professionals. So in my business job seeker coaching, I work a lot with HR people who want to get their next job on, on the ladder. And at least half of the people I work with say, Oh, I can't apply for that role because it says that you have to have experience of HR strategy.

And I don't do that in my operational role. And because that's such a common worry that I hear from people, actually, I think we, you are often more exposed to HR strategy than you think you might be. Just because you're not setting the strategy doesn't mean that you're not familiar with it and working with it.

But... Sitting as a charity trustee, you really are part of a team that set the strategy. Not just HR strategy, you'll be setting strategy around every single operational area of that strategy. But if you're a charity, employs people, which it will because I can't think of any charity that actually operates without at least one paid employee.

And even if actually you only have one paid employee, and then you have an army of volunteers, those volunteers are still part of your workforce resource. And you still need a strategy for how you're going to manage volunteer recruitment, volunteer development, as well alongside as your paid employee development and what you're going to do around pay rewards and all those things that all businesses have to grapple with.

If you sit as a trustee, you will get exposure to all those kinds of debates and decisions. I think the other thing it also gives you is a fantastic exposure to other areas, so not just HR. And again, if you work in a large organization, a large corporate, and you're part of the big HR team, often you just don't have exposure to what's happening in finance and legal and estates and marketing and sales and all those other things.

And actually sitting on a board of trustees, you gain such a lot of knowledge from those areas, because you will hear updates about what's happening in those particular areas and then be asked to, in some cases, make a decision or vote on a course of action. And at first you might think, I can't do that, I have no idea of this.

You'll be amazed how quickly you just subsume all this excellent knowledge about how those functions work. And then the third thing is it's a fantastic networking opportunity. You will get to develop professional relationships with other experts in those areas who also volunteering their time and expertise to help this organization.

You come together with a common goal already. So you're both interested in this particular cause, whatever it is. So there's great professional networking opportunities. And if you're involved in a charity that's more local, that can also be really beneficial for you becoming more involved in your local community and developing more community links.

But if you're working with a larger, bigger national charity, you won't just be working with professionals who are in your town or city, you'll be working with professionals from all over the UK, many of whom have worked abroad, many of whom are not UK nationals themselves, they've lived in different countries.

You know, it's a really lovely melting pot of different... ideas, background, thinking and, and experience that you can just mine completely and take away for your own development as well as giving something back.

Fay Wallis:

I really hope that people listening are getting all fired up from hearing what you have to say and thinking, Oh my goodness, this just sounds like it could be the most incredible experience and opportunity. But I can also imagine some people might be feeling a little bit nervous where you have just talked through what a senior level the role is and what it is that you'll be contributing. So to help put people's minds at rest when it comes to the skills that you're expected to bring in, what advice or insights can you give us about that?

I'm nervous in case anyone's thinking, oh no, I couldn't possibly put myself forward, I'm not experienced enough.

Roisin Williams:

Sure. And I can understand that because when you talk about being a director of a company that conjures up all these images of, of things that you just couldn't possibly do if you haven't been a director of a company before.

But I think it goes back to that list I gave about, about the six areas where one of them is that you have to act with appropriate expertise and skill. So you bring the level of expertise and skill that you have. So if you've got five years experience, no one's expecting you to have 30 years experience.

So when you apply, you're obviously telling people who you are and, and what your level of expertise is. And nobody will go beyond that. There won't be, for example, if you're an HR professional and your focus has mainly been on say recruitment and development, no one's going to expect you to be an expert in immigration law and how you deal with people not having the right visa because that's a really specialized area.

So you bring whatever you've got and generally speaking unless you work in a very very narrow field in HR, you've probably had exposure to quite a lot of different operational environments, so you've probably had dabbled at some point maybe in a bit of recruitment, you might have done a little bit of employment law because you've drafted contracts of employment, or you keep the handbook up to date, you might have got involved in a bit of training and development, which could be as simple as just doing inductions for new staff when they join, as up to, you know, actually providing specialist coaching for managers.

You might've got a bit, a little bit involved in things like payroll, which is also really helpful. And so all charities, as I said, have got employees, even if they've just got one. So having somebody who's got that HR expertise is really helpful because the person who's operationally running the charity, which could be a chief executive if it's big, it might just be the manager, it might just be, as I say, someone managing a really small team. They probably don't have an HR background, so whatever you bring will be more expertise than the charity had before. So, what you'll demonstrate is your skills in your own arena, which might be corporate, it might be public sector.

But what you'll gain then is an understanding of how to operate HR within the charitable sector, which is very different if you've not had that exposure. Because people who work for charities aren't doing it for the paycheck, they're doing it for the, for the commitment and the love of that cause.

Because of that, working charities is, it has a very different culture to working in an environment where people are doing it for the paycheck. So it's a really great opportunity to take the skills you've got from one area, one arena, and actually implement them in the charitable sector, because you'll get great development from that.

As well, without actually having to change your job, you know, often when we want to develop as an HR person, we change and we develop by getting our next job and we think, oh, and I really want to have exposure to this environment or this level or this area of specialism. By being a charity trustee, actually, I think it ticks all those boxes in one and you do it alongside your existing role.

For me, I just think it's such a win win that it it baffles me that there's at the moment there's 100, 000 charity trustee vacancies in the UK, because charities are always wanting more trustees than they can get. And when I think about that, I just think people obviously just don't know what, what the professional and personal growth is that they would get just by giving up a little bit of time.

Fay Wallis:

I had no idea that there are that many vacant seats for trustees. Hopefully our episode together is going to help fill just even a few of those. That would be a wonderful feeling to know that we're making a tiny bit of a difference in our own way. What we've talked about so far is operating at quite a strategic level.

I'd love to ask you how much actual hands on work would you be expected to do as well? So it's one thing advising on strategy and plans and what you think would be good for the charity to do, but when it actually comes to implementing some of that stuff, so you mentioned recruitment, you mentioned employment law, you mentioned induction, how much as a trustee would you be being expected to do operationally?

Roisin Williams:

So the answer to that very much depends on the size of the charity that you are a trustee of. So I've been a trustee of both very small local charities that had, say, four or five employees, and I've been a trustee of a large charity that had 150, 200 employees that then had its own little HR function.

There is a really clear distinction between being the trustee that brings HR knowledge and the operational HR activities that go on, and it's important that the line isn't blurred. So any hands on work that you do has to be in an advisory and supportive capacity. So, if there is induction of new colleagues that needs to take place, It's not appropriate for any of the trustees to deliver that.

The trustees, I could imagine a time when the trustees might come along and maybe give an introduction or say hello to people, but you wouldn't ever be asked to operationally deliver that. You wouldn't ever be asked to actually sit as part of recruitment panels for junior staff. You might be asked as a trustee to sit as part of recruitment panel for the new

manager or head of delivery or chief executive. Because that role has a very close relationship with the board of trustees but it is very much a a separate and is kept as a distinctively separate role, um, because of the responsibilities that the trustees have, which are around governance. It's very hard to govern correctly if you're also involved in the day to day minutiae, but you may have an area of expertise that the operational staff running the charity want to mind for themselves from you and that's absolutely fine.

You're there to provide the expertise that you have. So for example, if you were somebody who had a lot of employment law experience and one of the things that the Board of Trustees had decided they wanted to do was to update the employee handbook and contracts If you've got experience of that, quite clearly it would make sense for you to provide that expertise rather than go to a firm of solicitors and pay money to buy that expertise in.

If you've already got it, or someone on the Board of Trustees has it, you actually share that. And that's how you are... bringing your skills to help the charity and help the board of trustees and not spend so much money. But at the same time you get all that development of opportunity back So it's it's very much a kind of quid pro quo arrangement.

Fay Wallis:

You've really really helped to bring the role to life so fantastically Roisin. For anyone who's listening who's thinking, This sounds like a really good idea. I am going to try to become a trustee.

What would your advice be to them on where they should start?

Roisin Williams:

My advice would be, if you've not been a charity trustee before, start small. Start with something that's a small charity with a small number of employees. For two reasons, really. One, because it won't be as daunting, because they will be very, very grateful for anybody coming forward to be a trustee.

Because I guarantee they don't have as many trustees as they would like. Because whilst you don't want a massive trustee board, you need a board that's got enough different professional skills and enough diversity for it to actually really operate effectively and make meaningful decisions. So if this is your first time stepping into that arena I would start small which generally speaking unless you live in london means you might start locally. There's so many charities.

I looked briefly last night. There's well over a million registered charities in the UK. There will be something that really speaks to your soul and that's probably my other piece of advice is find something that really floats your boat You're going to be there for two to five years if it all goes well. So start small. It will allow you to not be so daunted and in terms of where to look for vacancies The thing about Charity Trustees vacancies are that unlike professional vacancies, it isn't generally speaking word of mouth, uh, because they always need them.

They're always, I don't like to use the word desperate, but some charities really are. Actually, what I'm saying is they're probably very well advertised. It's not all like secret squirrel. So, if you've got a particular charity in mind that you know of, you can look on their website, on their social media channels, see if they want trustees.

Sign up to all the charity newsletters of charities that you, um, are potentially interested in. If it is local, it's probably likely to be advertised on a local notice board in your library or the supermarket. Local councils often actually have sections on their website to support charities and charities can advertise their vacancies there.

There's something called the Community Voluntary Service, CVS, that's been going for years. They try and match local people in the community with volunteer opportunities of, of, of all types. Um, so there's probably a local one to, to your area, but there's also a range of specific websites that are dedicated to this.

So Reach Volunteering is a really good one. Again, it's for all types of volunteering roles, but they always have loads of, uh, charity trustee vacancies, and that's a good website. You can filter it down by geographical area and, specialist skills that you might be offering and also the type of charity.

And then there's also, there's a brilliant website called Getting On Board which is all about becoming a board trustee. And it gives lots of information much more than I can share today around what being a trustee is, what the legal position is, what the risks are, what the benefits are, and then there's also some really great links to live, charity trustee vacancies there as well.

So there's lots of different places to go to actually get your experience. One thing I would say to people is, if you've found a charity that you think you might want to be a trustee of, if you're a cautious risk averse person like I am, do your due diligence because you are becoming a director of that business.

And you wouldn't just become a director of a business that somebody offered you without thinking it through and thinking, is this something I really want to put my name to? So all registered charities have to publish their accounts every year, and that's available on the Charities Commission website.

So, you'll be able to see the most recent accounting return and also any recent, any previous years that they've also had. The reason why this is important is... You wouldn't become a director of a business that you knew was about to go bust. That would be a particularly poor professional decision to make.

So, the same thing applies with a registered charity. Now, there aren't many charities that are massively cash rich. Most charities are just about ticking along. So, it's I think it's important to check into the charity's financial position right now, check how it's been before, see how comfortable you are with where their finances are.

Most viable charities have between three to six months running costs in the bank at any one time. Now that can fluctuate a bit because you might have a month where there's been a big a big spend. But if if it's a charity that has got less than three months running costs in reserve, and you'll be able to find all that information in the accounts, if it's got less than that I'm not saying don't get involved.

I'm just saying get involved with some caution, because you don't want your first trustee experience to be you and the other board members winding up a charity. That is a stress that you can avoid. So don't expect them to have millions of pounds in the bank, because that's unrealistic, but make sure that you're comfortable with where they are financially and have a conversation with whoever is most appropriate within the charity.

It could be the chair of trustees if there is one or another fellow trustee is already there or the person who's running the charity. You'll gain a lot of information just by going to speaking to them, having a phone conversation, meeting them face to face, finding out how the charity works, what their challenges are, what types of decisions the Board of Trustees have got to make, what might be coming up for them. Because then you'll get an idea of the kinds of conversations and decisions that you'll be asked to be involved in, and you'll also just find out if it feels like a good fit, and I would say trust your gut on this one, because if it doesn't feel like a good fit, it's probably not the right thing to do, and there'll always be another charity who will want your skills as a trustee, I can assure you.

Fay Wallis:

It's absolutely invaluable advice, Roisin. I particularly like what you were saying about trying to reach out and actually talk to people who are in the charity. And that's advice that really stands firm for any role. And I think it's a real danger nowadays, isn't it? Where you can just apply for everything online.

Roisin Williams:

Online, quick click.

Fay Wallis:

It can be so tempting to just think, Oh, okay, I've filled in all my application. I've done as much as I can. I've researched it online. I'll click apply. When actually those conversations can really help your application, but also really make you be sure that this is the right decision for you.

I could talk to you about this topic all day long, and I know there's so much more that I could ask you, but sadly we are coming to the end of our time together today. So I'm at the point of asking you the question that I ask pretty much every guest who comes on the show, and I can't wait to hear what your answer is going to be.

The question is, would you like to share a non fiction book recommendation with us, or would you prefer to share a confidence building tip for us today?

Roisin Williams:

So, bearing in mind my business, Job Seeker Coaching, is all about giving people the skills and confidence to go for their next role, it seemed appropriate that I would share a confidence building tip.

And I'm going to share a mantra that I tell very nearly every client who crosses my path, and it's just three little words that I think are really important. And that is, take a punt. And I think that applies whether you are going for a paid role or even going for a trustee role like we've talked about today.

Put your hat in the ring because actually you've got very little to lose and I think in HR particularly, because quite often we are, uh, we can be quite behind the scenes in, in HR. We aren't often the people who are on the front line, we're not the people who are necessarily dealing with our customers or bringing home the big contracts.

We kind of get quite, quite used to sort of being in our little space. And we, we're not always, in my experience, very good at putting ourselves forward. And what I find with my clients is, and I say this would be true if you were looking at the job spec to be a charity trustee, it's very easy to read through that job spec and go, oh, I can't, I haven't done that, oh, I wouldn't know where to start with that, and ignore the 50 percent of the things that they're asking for.

That you can do, and that you have done. And we're very good, I think, at talking ourselves out of something. And what I'm encouraging you to do by taking a punt, is, if you come across a role, any role, and it ignites something in you, it, you read it and think, Oh, that sounds, that sounds great. If you can do 50 percent of the things they're asking for, take a punt.

Because the worst that happens is, you just don't get selected through to the next stage. You've got nothing to lose. There's no shame. There's no embarrassment. No one needs to know that you've applied for it, but you just never know where that one application that you took a punt on might take you and I think If we all embrace that, we would all do much, much better in our job search.

Fay Wallis:

I love it, Roisin, and I couldn't agree more. For anyone listening today who would love to learn more about your work or get in touch with you, what is the best way of them doing that?

Roisin Williams:

I would love to speak to any of the listeners today who want to reach out to find out more about being a trustee and what being a trustee could do for them.

Uh, you can find me on LinkedIn, Roisin Williams, Job Seeker Coaching, or you can also get in touch with me via my website, jobseekercoaching. co. uk. And it would be lovely to share some more of my passion and enthusiasm for becoming a charity trustee.

Fay Wallis:

Well, thank you so much for joining me on HR Coffee Time today, Roisin.

It's been fantastic recording the episode with you and I'll make sure that I pop links to your website and your LinkedIn profile in the show notes for everyone as well.

Roisin Williams:

That's great, Fay. Thank you so much.

Fay Wallis:

You're so welcome.

That brings us to the end of today's episode. I really hope you enjoyed it. If you decide to go ahead and become a trustee, Roisin and I would love to hear all about it.

You can reach both of us on LinkedIn and I've shared links to both of our profiles in the show notes for you.

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