Choosing the Right Chairperson

The trustee board of a charity or voluntary organisation is, in most cases, going to be made up of uniquely passionate individuals, fully invested in the operations and success of their cause and deeply concerned with the quality of their organisation’s decision making. Concentrated passion and enthusiasm like this is a priceless asset to anybody, what is risked when a group like this comes together is creating a mess of ideas or even an atmosphere of unnecessary competition, stifling the input of those less willing to shout over others to be heard. This is when having a truly effective chairperson at board and trustee meetings starts to come into play.

It’s pretty easy to view a chair as the most important person in the room. Not that this is untrue, it just depends on what you feel a chair is most responsible for. Should they be creative? Should they have answers for questions, solutions to problems? Are they a green or red light for ideas that are brought forward? Well no, not really, but this is how they are often seen, making the average chair something of a work horse. Two of the most important skills a chair can have is the ability to communicate and delegate, with authority and sensitivity. More important than their ability to solve problems is their emotional intelligence, their ability to adapt to who they are working with. It is their job to tactfully prevent any one individual from dominating a discussion and to draw more out those who appear a little reluctant. If board members are coming up with great ideas it is the responsibility of the chair to make sure these are followed through with. It’s not their job to take all of this new work on, but to make sure initiatives aren’t discarded and to match the right tasks to the right people.

If you do feel that a chair person is not effective it is not necessarily their own fault. Though a lot of this can come down to the chair’s inability or unwillingness to communicate, a lot of the time the problem lies in recruitment and a board or organisation not taking responsibility for feeding back what is working and what is not. Really take the time to evaluate who would be best for the role. Just because somebody is willing to put himself forward does not mean that they will give you what you need. Understand that this person doesn’t have the easiest job in the world; be willing to offer support and even training if possible.

The best thing you can do is to pay close attention to those individuals who have endeavored to give up their time and offer their skills to support your cause. In your next board meeting, look out for those who make others feel at ease, those who always bring a discussion back to its point and the one who everybody seems to address what they say to, because in that person you have the makings of a great chair and a better board.

James Wright

[email protected]

Trustees have many different names

Different names, same roles and responsibilities

Charity Trustees have many names:

  • Management Committee Member
  • Executive Committee Member
  • Governing Board Member
  • Non-Executive Director
  • Board Member
  • Governor 
  • Director
  • Chair/Chairman
  • Treasurer
  • Trustee

Anyone responsible for the general control and management of the administration of a charity is a trustee.

Thank You Trustees!

A MASSIVE THANK YOU to every single Harrow Trustee for getting involved to publicise #trusteesweekWith particular thanks going to Victoria Silver (@VictoriaSilver4) for getting us so many great photos, you’re fantastic. 

Harrow Trustees you’ve gone national: Click Here

It has been an INCREDIBLE week and VAH know it has inspired a lot of people, to find out more about becoming trustees. Which is BRILLIANT!!

To show our appreciation to the trustees that gave us their photos we have quickly created a trustee collage which you can download and print to show off the great Harrow trustees.


Trustee Week 2012

“This is what a TRUSTEE looks like”

“Trustees are the people in charge of a charity. They play a vital role, volunteering their time and working together to make important decisions about the charity’s work. Trustees’ Week is an annual event to showcase the great work that trustees do and highlight opportunities for people from all walks of life to get involved and make a difference.” (Trustees Week Blog)

To celebrate and promote this brilliant week Voluntary Action Harrow has been travelling Harrow taking photos of trustees with the sign “This is what a trustee looks like” to raise awareness of this special event.

Photos include:

Harrow Agenda 21 (HA21) is working to enable local people to act together to improve their quality of life in a sustainable way. They NEED active members to overcome several challenges so please get in touch.

Harrow Law Centre who provide a free and independent legal advice service to people who live or work in the London Borough of Harrow. Examples of services include; where the client needs a solicitor’s letter, representation in court and advice on bringing a judicial review.

The Wish Centre which is a fantastic local charity supporting recovery from self harm, sexual and domestic violence, abuse and neglect for children, teenagers and young women. Last week they won Lloyds Banking Group Community Fund Congratulations!

VAH would like to thank all those who agreed to have their photo taken to raise awareness of Trustee Week.

If you would like to submit your photos send it to [email protected]

Young Trustees!

It’s not all about age

Speaking to Alex Swallow, founder of Young Charity Trustees at our October Harrow Trustee Network brought home to me just how important it is to get young people to join groups as trustees. I meet groups all the time who say to me “we really need more young people like you” (great for my ego, being over 35), I really must start asking them “why?”.

“We’re all getting older” they say and it feels like often that’s the only reason they want younger people. I’ve rarely heard someone say “we need someone with skills that can help us reach out to get young people as members…. involved in our campaigns….to help us with social media”.

I became a trustee at 23 years old because I wanted management experience and I was interested in green stuff. The person who approached me said by being a trustee I could help manage an environmental watchdog. My point is that when you’re young you’re making choices that are shaping your views, your ambitions and want to be part of something worthwhile, something that can make a difference to you and maybe others too.

Young people can offer a lot as trustees. Enthusiasm, an alternative perspective on campaigns and service delivery, increase networking opportunities, harnessing technology for example. The Charity Commission wants to encourage charities to think seriously about the benefits of involving young people and says “it’s best to focus on young people’s skills and experience, rather than assuming that they “represent” their peers. It is too easy to fall into a tokenistic approach to diversity”

So, maybe it’s time to rethink your recruitment strategy for trustees. A survey carried out by Charities Aid Foundation in advance of Trustees Week shows a third of young adults would consider a trustee role. 

And don’t forget! Like all trustees they’ll need support when joining your board and if you want to retain them. So, once you have them give them an induction, invest in some trustee training, pair them for peer support with another trustee and ask them regularly if they are ok and ….and offer to pay their travel expenses.

Sarah Kersey


Trusteeship Responsibilities

“With great power comes great responsibility” even in a small community group

In the last year there has been so much debate in the national voluntary sector journals and blogs about the Charities Act Review, payment of trustees, fines for late submission of accounts to the Charity Commission, regulation of fundraising and trustee development and support.

It’s obvious the spotlight is upon the sector as the country is strapped for cash and funders are keen to know that money is going to be put to good use in well governed organisations. Trustee are regularly being encouraged by umbrella bodies to recognise the importance of impact assessment, social investment and evidencing need in their organisations.

It’s interesting reading the Charity Commission’s report Charities Back on Track 2011-12 but  the findings are not a big surprise if you’re involved in supporting organisations. Over half of the investigations completed by the Charity Commission in 2011-12 involved concerns about poor governance or poor trusteeship, including concerns about breaches of governing document, unmanaged conflicts of interest, and concerns about fundraising governance.

Now, you may think this doesn’t apply to your group. But ask yourself these questions. Has everyone on the committee read the constitution? How did the people on the board get recruited? How do you know all the money from your quiz night fundraiser was banked? Sometimes we just assume everything is working well but as a trustee we have a duty as an individual and collectively to ensure the checks and balances are there.

For some this might feel like an extra burden upon the trustees. But maybe these trustees need to be reminded that the Charity Commission says it is their responsibility to ensure their group “is solvent, well-run, and delivering the charitable outcomes for the benefit of the public for which it has been set up”.

But it isn’t all doom and gloom because there are rewards for getting it right including more success with funding, increased recognition for the benefit to the community, time saved and services delivered by attracting efficient and experienced volunteers. And there is support locally, on the web and many, many great examples of groups of all sizes both locally and nationally who can inspire good practice and will want to tell you about it.

Sarah Kersey