Recognising and developing your trustees

3 Nov 2015 Sandra Bailie    Last updated: 3 Nov 2015

This Trustees’ week is a great opportunity to recognise the vital work that the thousands of trustees in Northern Ireland do to lead and serve their organisations.

Charity trustees are the people who are legally responsible for the control, management and administration of a charity – a big ask of volunteers but one that the people who lead charities step up to every day. Trustees work together to make important decisions regarding charities’ finances, activities and plans for the future, giving leadership and direction.

Last year the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland produced A snapshot of charity trustees in Northern Ireland showing an almost even split of male and female and average age of 55 years with only 1% in 18-24year old bracket and over a third aged over 65 years. This raises the need to think about succession planning for our boards of trustees and encouraging younger people to get involved in the role of a trustee. Recruitment of new trustees and continuous development of current trustees keeps them up to date with changes and helps develop them for the future. Some areas of development to consider are: legal and regulatory updates, risk management, financial management, good governance, staff management, leadership, strategic planning and impact practice.

NICVA’s executive committee has 12 trustees that are representative of different interests within the sector as a whole. They play a vital part in leading and directing the organisation and give generously of their time and skills. Most if not all of them also play pivotal roles as trustees of other boards and come with a wealth of experience. We asked a couple of them to share some of their experience as charity trustees.

Michael  Briggs is the Executive Director of East Belfast Community Development Agency. As well as being a trustee on the NICVA executive he is on the board of Eastside Partnership (formerly East Belfast Partnership) and community rep on their Executive Committee. He is also on the board of Templemore Avenue School Trust and Titanic People; and the chair of Inner East Neighbourhood Partnership and East Belfast Social Investment Fund (SIF) Steering Group.

Here Michael tells us a bit about why he became a trustee and what he has learnt.

 “Thirty years ago I became a trustee because of my passion to see the community of East Belfast changed and for East Belfast to be a better place for people to live, work, play and build their lives.  Whilst this is still my passion, most of the Boards I'm involved with now are because of my job as Executive Director of East Belfast Community Development Agency.

I have learnt that you are there to guide, support and help maintain and develop the organisation you’re not there to run it!  I've also learned that your role as a trustee is sometimes to remind paid staff about the core mission of the organisation.”

We asked him what he enjoys the most and finds the most challenging in his trustee role.

I enjoy seeing things changed, solving problems, seeing organisations and people within those organisations develop. The thing I find most challenging is organisations wanting to sell double glazing when their job is to sell apples!!  Organisations will have a core mission.  It is easy to chase the money because you feel obligated to keep people employed, but that then allows mission drift to creep in.  Mission drift just doesn't show up one day, it creeps in and before you know it, you are selling double glazing and wondering why you have so many apples sitting in your office.”

Michael encourages others to volunteer as trustees.

You have life experience that organisations in the community and voluntary sector could benefit from.  Take your time, learn, listen, understand and contribute.”

Pat Hutchinson MBE is the District Manager of Newtownabbey Citizens Advice. As well as being a trustee on the NICVA executive she has been Chairperson of Rathcoole Churches community Group for 15 years and on the Trustee Board for 30 years. She is part of the Economic Subcommittee from Rathcoole Neighbourhood renewal and is a member of the Ileostomy Welfare Subcommittee. Pat is also the Chair of South Antrim Age Well Network for older people and has recently been appointed to Mallusk Enterprise Board and Rathcoole Neighbourhood Renewal Board.

We asked Pat why she became a trustee and what she enjoys the most.

“I decided to become a Trustee to try to make a difference to peoples’ lives by using my skills and abilities to help shape and support organisations that matter to me. I enjoy the role of Trustee when we can see that the outcomes really do make a difference to ordinary people’s lives. What I find challenging in some trustee boards is it can take a very long time to make a decision; I am a doer and like to get on with the task. My role as a Trustee varies as the time commitment is different and the organisations are varied, but I find them all rewarding and although it is a cliché I do want to give something back, use the skills I have to make life better for ordinary people.”

Pat urges anyone who can spare the time to consider becoming a trustee.

I would encourage anyone who has spare time to become a Trustee as there are benefits on both sides. I have met some committed, selfless, interesting and lovely people in my journey as a Trustee.”

If you are interested in development for your board or in finding out more about becoming a trustee visit the governance hub on our website. You can view current board vacancies on either the CommunityNI or Volunteer Now websites.'s picture
by Sandra Bailie

Head of Organisational Development

[email protected]

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