Ian Joseph of Trustees Unlimited describes how companies like Barclays, Google and Mishcon de Reya are using board-level volunteering with charities to help executives gain valuable new skills and promote CSR goals

Trustees Week (13-17 November) is an annual event that celebrates the fantastic work of charities’ trustees and focuses on the many opportunities available for people to get involved and work with charities.

Becoming a trustee offers a unique way for people to acquire new skills, make connections, and gain board-level experience while contributing to society, and many charities are actively seeking new trustees. They want to attract professionals from different industries to broaden the skills of their existing board members and to help strengthen governance.

But there are advantages for businesses too, not least of all in terms of the CSR benefits. In the past couple of years, we’ve seen a growing interest in board-level volunteering from corporates who want to offer existing and up-and-coming leaders an alternative, relevant and engaging professional development programme that also help them to fulfil their CSR commitments.

One such programme is Step on Board, which we launched in partnership with the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) three years ago.

Step on Board encourages employees from the private sector to become trustees and non-executives in charities and organisations with a social or environmental mission. To date, around 140 trustees have been recruited through the programme, with participating companies including Barclays, Google, and law firm Mishcon de Reya, amongst others.

Ian Joseph, Trustees Unlimited 

Earlier this year, we commissioned an independent review of Step on Board, led by management consultant Patrick Ballin. We wanted to determine the benefits and challenges faced by the companies that have participated and share the findings with organisations considering introducing an employee trustee programme in 2018.

Personal development

A major benefit that came out of review is that corporate trustee programmes help companies meet their CSR goals. Many of our clients are aligning the programme with their corporate philanthropy and CSR goals, and using it for employee personal development, growth and career enrichment opportunities.

One described the programme as having “the tools to bring CSR to life”. Most organisations started the programme as a community involvement or CSR initiative. They wanted to contribute skills and talents to the community, and saw it as a means of encouraging volunteering locally. Many said the programme has helped their company to demonstrate its social values and how it can make a difference to society.

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However, the participants stressed the need for HR and CSR departments to work together on the programme and to ensure their goals are aligned. They reported that having a shared goal for the programme and close collaboration between the departments was key to success and would ensure that momentum is maintained.

Developing future leaders

For new trustees, the leadership development opportunities that come from joining a board are endless. Working with people from all walks of life, taking on new responsibilities and being exposed to diverse ways of working can generate new thinking and skills. Trustees experience how an entire organisation is run up close and they are exposed to what one participant described as “a healthy dose of governance”.

Trusteeship offers senior managers with limited board experience the opportunity to develop and hone their board skills and experience. They will be asked to get to grips with an unfamiliar environment that involves new colleagues and stakeholders and will face complex challenges. Organisationshighlighted that many employees who have become trustees increased their emotional intelligence, improving their ability to work in teams and understand and connect with others.

One media lawyer, recruited by accommodation charity LHA London following the Step on Board programme, is Alexandra Whiston-Dew from law firm Mishcon de Reya. Alexandra says that becoming a trustee has helped her career development, mainly because she was taken out of her comfort zone. The charity benefits from her legal skills and understanding of social media and how to communicate with younger people.

Find the right charity

The review also highlighted some challenges faced by new trustees. One is the time commitment needed. A trustee role won’t necessarily fit around a normal work timetable, especially given the fact most charities hold meetings in the evenings.

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Prospective trustees need to consider carefully how a trusteeship would work around their busy lives and organisations should have this conversation at the outset, especially with senior level participants, who may struggle more than most.

Step on Board offers benefits in terms of talent development and CSR, however in many organisations these two business areas may not necessarily work closely together. The review highlighted that it’s vital that these two departments align for the programme to be a success.

Matching employees with the “right” charity is also essential. Individuals and organisations should take time to ensure the trustee has right fit of skills and interests for the role, even if this slows down the initial recruitment process. The review also recommended that the measurement and evaluation of the programme is key to the long-term success.

Lawyer Dina Shiloh, a partner at Gallant Maxwell, completed the programme at her former company, Mishcon de Reya, and is now a trustee at the Microloan Foundation. She recommends Step on Board to any professional considering becoming a trustee, especially younger people, as she says it is a fantastic way for them to gain board experience early in their careers.

Step on Board gives employers an opportunity to develop future leaders by offering a unique board experience programme that can be tailored to meet corporate and CSR goals, as well as HR and talent strategy. The result is a win-win situation for the individual, the company and the charity, and the chance to give something positive back to society.

Ian Joseph is CEO of Trustees Unlimited and managing director of Russam GMS

CSR  corporate volunteering  charities  human resources  Step on Board  NCVO 

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