This week is Trustee Week, a celebration of the great and the good who look after our charities.
The timing in some ways feels inauspicious. There has arguably never been a more challenging time to be a charity trustee. Organisations across the not-for-profit sector continue to face intense scrutiny on a myriad of questions – from how much they pay their staff, to the proportion of charitable income spent on the ‘end cause’. Just last weekend, the Daily Telegraph ran a front-page interview with the chair of the Fundraising Regulator calling into question – once again – the methods through which charities raise money. Who would choose to take on the responsibilities of unpaid trusteeship – knowing that the buck for any failings stops with them?
Well, I have, and based on my experience of working with a small charity I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.
I am a Trustee for Ourmala, a UK registered charity which helps refugees and asylum-seekers rebuild their lives and integrate in the community. Many of the people we help are recovering from cruelty and violence such as torture, war, sexual violence and human trafficking. Many are women and children.
It’s enormously rewarding – but not for everyone. We may be unpaid volunteers but we can’t, and don’t, take our responsibilities lightly. We are the custodians of the charity and have moral and legal responsibility for the organisation’s work. It is our job to ensure that our charity has a clear set of goals, sound finances and is delivering against its objectives and vision. It’s not a responsibility to be taken on lightly. It needs dedication and, when you have a busy day job, a willingness and ability to juggle your time.
However, the experience is rewarding and humbling. As communications experts, we can bring a unique and much-needed perspective to charity boards at a time when scrutiny of how they raise and spend money and their impact is particularly intense. While others can bring different skills and experience to the table – such as legal or financial expertise – we can act as an intermediary between the charity and the concerns and perceptions of its supporters.
We can provide early warning of possible pitfalls and encouragement around how they communicate their good news and impact. Charities – particularly small voluntary organisations who do not have the in-house PR muscle of larger charities – need good comms people to provide some much needed external perspective that cuts through some of the inward-looking, navel gazing that can occasionally cloud a charity’s thinking. Being a Corporate PR has opened my eyes to just how important it is for charities to have similar systems in place to what we normally associate to running a business.
While I have brought skills to the table as a Trustee, the charity has also given a lot back to me. I’ve gained valuable experience and insight early in my career into the senior decision-making process and the unique financial, legal and organisational responsibilities that come with exercising responsibilities at this level.
This, in turn, has helped me to understand and put myself in the shoes of PR clients who might be grappling with similar issues and challenges, if on a larger scale. Beyond this, there is the emotional payback in knowing that you have helped guide and build an organisation that is making a real difference to society. Especially, when it is easy to feel disconnected from people who are suffering emotionally and financially and you’re in a comms bubble – which let’s be real, most of us in comms are! For me, this is where the real return is.
Even when I’ve seen front page after front page of charity scandal, I’ve never regretted my decision to become a Trustee, and I wouldn’t hesitate to encourage others to think about whether it might be right for them.
Rajmeena Aujla is a Trustee at Ourmala (www.ourmala.com) and also an Associate Director in the Corporate, Technology and Professional Services team at The PR Office.