My experience as a Charity Trustee

Emma Kerins is Head of Policy and Public Affairs with Chambers Ireland. She is also a voluntary trustee of the board of the YMCA Dublin. She tells us what being part of a charity board is like.

Just over one year ago I formally joined the Board of the YMCA Dublin.

My background was in human rights law and currently I work in public affairs, and at that point, had done so for about five years, working in Dublin for the most part, but also having spent some time working in Northern Ireland and New Zealand.

While I wouldn’t say I got itchy feet, I did have the urge to do something else outside of my normal Monday to Friday job and volunteer part of my time with a different organisation, perhaps with a more charitable focus or engaged more in front line services.

It was at this point that I came across an opportunity to join the Board of YMCA Dublin, who were looking for new Directors/Trustees with skills like my own. As both a charity and social enterprise, it immediately struck my interest. I contacted the organisation, made an application and was subsequently invited to join.

I’m now one year into serving on the Board of the Dublin YMCA, so how have I found it? It has been, so far, an experience I have found both challenging and rewarding. Joining a Board of Directors is serious. In order to carry out your duties, you need to be sure you can commit the time required. You also need to ensure you fully understand your role and legal obligations when it comes to both governance and your fiduciary responsibilities to the organisation.

Serving with a Board, particularly that of a charity, is also a great privilege and an extremely positive experience. You really get to know another organisation and through this, you have the chance to actively support the team in implementing its programmes and services.

From a personal perspective, it’s also a fantastic learning opportunity. It puts you in a position where you’re working closely with many other people, often from very different professions, with different skillsets to your own, in order to achieve a common purpose.

As well as being a valuable learning experience, it can also be a very meaningful one. Having the chance to volunteer your skills and your time to a charity and supporting its long term development is something that I am delighted to be a part of.

There is a perception that you need to be certain age or have a certain skillset in order to be eligible to join a Board, but I have not found this to be the case. Diversity on boards has been proven to contribute to stronger and more ethical organisational governance. Having a mix of ages, genders, professions and ranges of experience brings a wealth of expertise to an NGO, so my advice would be not to let any such perception intimidate you. So long as you have the time, enthusiasm and commitment to carrying out your duties, there is no reason why both you and a charity can’t reap the benefits.

Charity Trustees’ Week runs from from 12th – 16th November with events taking place around the country. Join the conversation online using #TrusteesWeekIrl.

Always learning…

Our Training and Programmes Manager, Stuart Garland, reminds us of the importance of listening and learning from others this International Volunteer Managers Day.  Join the conversation on social media using #IMVDay18.

Any of you who follow me on Twitter will sometimes see me use the hashtag #AlwaysLearning.  You may have heard me refer to myself as a Volunteer Management & Leadership Specialist, never an expert. I am always listening to other stories and experiences both locally and internationally.

If I am delivering training on some element of volunteer management and I ask the question “Does anyone have a challenging volunteer and can you tell me about the challenge?” there is usually a stony silence before someone finally gives in with a story that starts with “Well I had this challenge once…” Then a few minutes into the story others in the room begin to nod with agreement or throw their eyes to the sky and say “I’ve a volunteer just like that and this is how I dealt with them…” All of a sudden people are vying for airtime to tell their challenging story.

Sometimes we aren’t that open to share our stories about challenging volunteers or volunteer management issues. I’ll often get a phone call that goes something like this. “I need to talk to you confidentially about this situation … please never tell anyone … I can’t tell you our organisation” The reality is that I’ve heard this exact story already, and probably as recent as no more than a month ago.

We all make mistakes, and hopefully we learn and become more mature.  We may think that another Volunteer Involving Organisation is better than us, in reality we are all dealing with the same situations, what we do and how we react to these challenges is what differentiates a quality volunteer programme from a poor one. It is also about the processes or procedures you have in place to deal with those challenges, without creating an overly burearatic programme full of red tape.

We can all learn from each other. I don’t claim to be an expert in Volunteer Management in Leadership. I am just a specialist in the area. I am #AlwaysLearning and so should you. Never miss out on opportunities to talk to and learn from others in our field.

The role of a Volunteer Manager is often a lonely one, one person in charge of a group of volunteers. Reach out and talk to your fellow Volunteer Managers, talk to us in Volunteer Ireland.