I was at a networking event last week and got chatting to the Chief Exec of a charity who immediately asked if I knew of anyone with IT skills who wanted to become a trustee as they were desperately short of technical skills on the board (note: the event in question was about the use of technology innovation in charities).
When I started explaining that thirdbridge would soon be available and that she would be able to search for professionals with specific skills who were looking to become trustees (and that other sites dedicated to finding trustees also existed), she quickly (and openly) admitted that it wasn’t really the skills she was after – it was only if the individuals worked for large companies (or were high net worth individuals) and would therefore bring in some money to the organisation.
Now, I appreciate that all charities need to raise money and look for new ways to do so (being a trustee of a small charity myself, we are feeling the pinch of austerity as much as anyone), but to dress up a fundraising drive under the guise of trustee recruitment is, at best, a dubious recruitment policy…and, at worst, downright immoral.
Becoming a trustee is an important decision for an individual and not one that is, or should be, taken lightly. There are legal responsibilities they need to adhere to – ultimately they are making decisions that will impact on people’s lives. Trustees are recruited to use their skills and experience to support their charities, helping them achieve their aims. It is a position of oversight and governance to ensure that the charity is doing the right thing with its donations…so being recruited for the size of their wallet and not for the oversight and experience they can bring to the governance of the organisation is somewhat ironic.
I am certainly not saying this is common practice when recruiting trustees, but if we broaden this example out into a discussion about ‘partnerships’ in general, then I have seen several examples when both sides are completely unaligned. This week I heard about a charity who rent out an allotment in their local community. The charity themselves are focused on promoting sport for disabled children. The allotment is rented purely to offer the employees of their corporate partners something to do when they request for volunteering opportunities! All the while it’s really just the financial side of the ‘partnership’ that the charity is interested in (I don’t even think that the children involved in their sport programmes get to eat what is grown in the allotment!).
Charities, companies and individuals must be honest when they seek to form partnerships. Having a mutually beneficial relationship where both sides get something out of the relationship is not a bad thing, indeed, for relationships to really work and be sustainable, it has to be mutually beneficial – and this is something we strongly encourage at thirdbridge. But we always urge both partners to be honest and up front about what they want out of the relationship…and we certainly don’t recommend dressing up ‘opportunities’ as something that they are really not – this will only lead to an unhappy and short relationship.
Blog written by Rick Benfield, CEO of thirdbridge