Felicity takes us behind the scenes of her Trustee role!
With Trustees Week and the NCVO Trustees Conference fast approaching, we’ve spoken to Felicity, trustee at international development charity Afrinspire, to find out what being a trustee is really like!
What inspired you to become a trustee?
“Having volunteered in many different capacities for charities over a number of years, I realised that trustees have a unique opportunity to ensure that a charity is accomplishing its mission. I’ve really enjoyed interacting directly with supporters and clients, and in charity offices, but I also wanted to shape the direction and overall strategy of the charity.”
What skills or experience do you think are needed to be a great trustee?
“I think it’s essential to be passionate about the vision and values of the charity you work for. It helps if you like thinking about the big picture, can tolerate a bit of administrative/ governance-focused discussion, and have some previous voluntary experience or relevant skills (like simple budgeting, legal knowledge, or knowledge of the field the charity is working in). But ultimately, everyone has the potential to be a great trustee – boards thrive on a real diversity of skills and backgrounds and every individual has a unique perspective and set of experiences to contribute.”
For which charity are you a trustee?
“I’m a trustee of Afrinspire, an international development charity implementing sustainable, community-led programmes across East Africa. I took the role on following a student trusteeship of Medsin-UK (the UK student network which integrates education, advocacy and grassroots action to reduce health inequity at home and overseas), which I enjoyed so much I couldn’t wait to get stuck in with another trusteeship!”
How did you find out about the role and what was the recruitment process like?
“I’d done an internship with Afrinspire and wanted to contribute further to the charity. I spoke to the CEO and he let me know there was a space coming up on the board. The recruitment process was really friendly – interviews with the CEO and chair of trustees covering topics such as my motivations, what I hoped to contribute etc.”
What are your responsibilities?
“Like most trustees, my role entails planning and reviewing the direction and finances of the charity; particularly through reviewing grant requests from our African partners. We also enlist the aid of others in the charity through representing & promoting Afrinspire and supporting specific initiatives and charity staff/volunteers where appropriate.”
How does your role see you interact with supporters of your charity?
“My specific area of focus at the moment is encouraging engagement with young people, by attending events and offering training sessions to our student groups both in the UK and in Africa. This led to me co-leading a three-week student field trip to some of our partner projects with Afrinspire’s CEO: Ian Sanderson, and to my husband and I organising and running a 3 day Young African Leaders conference in Uganda.”
What is the relationship between trustees and senior managers at your charity?
“At Afrinspire, everyone works really closely together, and we invite volunteers and those working at the office to join us at some of our trustee meetings to contribute their views. This creates an approachable atmosphere where new ideas can flourish, and helps us trustees to keep in touch which what is happening in the charity on a day-to-day basis.”
What are the main challenges of being a trustee?
“Taking on trusteeship in addition to a full-time job can be tricky: I’m a newly-married, busy junior doctor and have had to miss a few trustee meetings through weekend shifts. Fortunately my board is really understanding about my professional commitments. I know some fellow trustees encounter some friction between board members which can be quite difficult but I guess that can be a problem in any group initiative so can help develop good conflict-resolution skills!”
What are the main benefits, personally and/or professionally, of being a trustee?
“Working with Afrinspire has helped me develop my career plans: it has shown me how my god-given passion for social justice drives me, and strengthened my commitment to combining this and my medical skills in improving healthcare overseas. I’ve also learnt so much from other board members, and the events, training and opportunities trusteeship has given me, and I’m confident the transferrable leadership, team-working and communication skills I have gained will be relevant throughout my career.”
What advice would you give to someone considering becoming a trustee?
“Trusteeship is hugely rewarding and offers a range benefits including a unique set of contacts, training and opportunities to develop skills. Personally, the greatest benefit I have received has been finding romance in the form of my ex-co trustee at Medsin, and now husband, Dan! I would encourage anyone considering trusteeship to give it a go; you’d be amazed by how much you can offer, and gain in return!”