At this week’s Generate Voices meeting we were joined by Damian Brady to talk about becoming a Generate Trustee. Damian is the Chair of Trustees and has been a member of the Board of Trustees for Generate for five years. He explained how the Board of Trustees wants to expand and diversify to include those who are at the heart of Generate’s mission, the members themselves.
What is a trustee?
All charities have a Board of Trustees. The purpose of the Board of Trustees is to make sure that the charity is well run and working in line with its values. A trustee also works to spread the word about the cause and raise awareness about the charity.
A trustee’s role in a charity is to be the ‘guardians of purpose’, making sure that all decisions put the needs of Generate members first. To do this, the role of a trustee includes many different aspects. Damian explained that the ‘posh’ word that is frequently used is governance, which means overseeing how everything works. Damian explained that being a trustee sounds scary, but in reality it’s not.
The Board of Trustees provides support to the Chief Executive to help them manage Generate as effectively as possible. Trustees look over all parts Generate, including its finances to make sure that money is being spent properly. During Board of Trustees meetings, they will talk about any areas of concern or potential problems. For example, at the beginning of the pandemic the Board of Trustees meetings centred a lot on health and safety concerns, such as buying more PPE and ensuring that the office was fit to work in. The accountants will then check that they have enough money in the budget and that it is all being spent wisely. The Board of Trustees also makes sure that Generate is working in accordance with the law.
The Board can only make a decision as a group. Together, the Board of Trustees also brings in new ideas on how to improve Generate. It is important that the Board of Trustees includes a Generate member, so that they can use their own experience to improve Generate’s services for all members.
At Generate, the Board of Trustees meets up every two months. The Board of Trustees is also joined by Beverly, Generate’s Chief Executive, and Mike, the Operations Director. Together, they all talk about what Generate is doing and how the organisation plans to meet its goals. Trustees are not paid, they are volunteers.
If it’s not paid then why do people become Trustees?
There are many different reasons why people decide to become trustee. Some of them are listed below:
- People become a trustee because they are passionate about the charity or the cause. Damian explained how his Auntie had a learning disability. Damian joined Generate’s Board of Trustees as a way to give back.
- People also become trustees because they have different or an extra skills that can help the board. They can provide expertise in a certain area, for example in law or accounting.
- Being a trustee also provides an opportunity to develop certain skills and grow a person’s network.
- People also become a trustee to learn a new skill or about charity governance and to understand how the charity sector works. These skills are useful for other areas of life, such as improving employment opportunities.
- The biggest benefit is that trustees make a difference to the charity they work with, and the people that the charity supports in the Generate community.
How can Generate members get involved with the Board of Trustees?
Generate members cannot sit in on board meetings, but they have the right to say “I don’t agree with this”. They can raise issues with the trustees, so that they can bring them up to the board. In addition, members can also join the board as a trustee. Generate members can add lots of value by joining a Board of Trustees.
One of our Generate Voices members, Michelle, is a trustee for a different organisation. Michelle explains that she has been a trustee for just over a year.
“I’m a Trustee,” said Michelle. “I became a Trustee so that I can bring my own lived experience to the board, to help make it better for other people with learning disabilities.”
Michelle explained that while it may seem complicated, being a trustee is in essence rather simple:
“It’s working towards a vision. I’ve only been a trustee for a year, I’m still learning. I enjoy it. I’m the one that is in front and I help add to the agenda. Being a trustee shows how co-production works!”
What do Generate Voices members think?
“Sometimes I lack confidence, I get tongue-tied. As much as I would like to be on the board, I don’t want to feel like I’m wasting their time or letting them down,” said Leon. “How do I get support to become a trustee?”
“We don’t have any lived experience on the Generate Board of Trustees. It would be important to have someone,” said Damian. “All Trustees get tongue-tied – we don’t mind! It can be scary, so we would be more than happy to go through papers and agendas before. So you can go over what you would like to say. The Board of Trustees wants to know what you think, what you believe and how you feel. It’s really important.”
“It’s the same as having a PA or a Buddy”, said Michelle. “You can have someone there to help you.”
“Exactly!” said Damian. “The current Board of Trustees can’t put their feet into Generate member’s shoes. We need to make our board better! And the board is happy to make allowances for this, to wait and take more time. It may sound scary but you can make it not scary. Anyone can do it, you just need to be brave enough to say ‘I don’t understand this’.”
“No jargon please!” laughed Michelle. “That’s all we need to say!”
Damian assured members that while it might look daunting, the Board of Trustees is more than happy to make the necessary adjustments. Damian suggested that a Generate trustee could have their own extra helper, more time in meetings and also a traffic light card system to help improve communication in meetings. Having a diverse range of experience and perspectives on Generate’s Board of Trustees is essential. Boards whose Trustees come from different backgrounds not only bring a varying expertise but they are also more likely to encourage debates and make better decisions.
Do you want to join Generate’s Board of Trustees?
If you are a Generate member and are interested in becoming a Trustee, please contact Generate Voices Coordinators Pip or Tony for more information.