10 Years of TLP – An Interview with Michelle Wright
31 August 2023 | By Lucy Pratt
This month, Cause4 are celebrating 10 years of the Trustee Leadership Programme, which was launched in 2013 to address the lack of effective and engaging governance training in the sector and seek to answer the question: “How can I become an effective charity trustee?
To kick-off this month of celebrations, we decided to interview the programme founder, Michelle Wright, to understand why she started the programme in the first place, and what she envisions for the future of trusteeship.
Could you tell us why you set up the Trustee Leadership Programme in the first place?
We recognised the difficulties that many charities were having in recruiting committed Trustees, and also that some of the governance training options available were either limited in scope or not very engaging. As all of our team serve as Charity Trustees, we hoped that we would have some good practical insight to share, that might really encourage current Trustees to develop their knowledge and also to support new Trustees to sign up!
What have you learnt from running this programme over the last 10 years?
The model of charitable governance is challenging and has become even more challenging in recent years. Every time the sector faces a high profile issue with charitable governance, we as volunteer Trustees get more regulation to deal with – and whilst this makes sense of course, I do worry just how much more pressure volunteer Trustees can reasonably be put under. Having said that, I hope that the Trustee Leadership Programme provides a comprehensive and practical guide to the responsibilities of Trustees. which means that they can actively engage in their roles without feeling anxious or overwhelmed.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge facing charity governance today?
The biggest challenge really lies in the myriad of responsibilities that Trustees have as volunteers. Many funders are now increasing their expectations of Trustees too, to be directly involved in overseeing the delivery of grants and in additional meetings. Whilst these expectations are completely understandable, they potentially limit Trusteeship to a certain profile of individual – such as those with comfortable wealth, a certain amount of free time and the privilege of a certain type of education. This is completely at odds with what charities often need, which is diverse boards with an understanding of the communities and beneficiaries that they serve, and with lived experience of the charity’s core issue or cause.
What do you think is needed in order to help overcome these challenges?
We urgently need to bring together funders and the Charity Commission as the regulator to explore these very real dilemmas and to find practical responses so that charities can diversify their boards and support all Trustees to be effective in their governance roles. We also need to raise the profile of Trusteeship and build the opportunities to serve on charity boards into early career pathways for young people – so that Trusteeship becomes part of a portfolio of opportunity for younger people throughout their lives.
Where do you see the sector changing over the next 10 years?
If the current economic pressures sustain, we will inevitably see a shrinking of the number and size of charities.
I’d personally like to see a far higher degree of collaboration between organisations to achieve a common goal and for funders to focus on partnership models to achieve change. We still see far too much self-interest with individual charities focussed on sustaining their operations, as opposed to really supporting the direct needs of beneficiaries. The sharing of research, academic insight and data across the sector more freely could reignite the charity sector as driving forward innovation and being at the heart of societal solutions, which I feel has been lost in recent years.
What advice would you give to charities and Trustees looking to ensure best practice in governance?
Make sure that Trustees have some form of regular training and that they are kept up to date when responsibilities change. Focus on the culture of the board and that they understand their role in both setting and overseeing strategy and how to really interact with any paid staff or volunteers. Every Trustee should understand how they add value to that organisation and to be self-critical in analysing behaviours or interactions which are less helpful in moving the charity forward. This requires Trustee only discussion and regular review, as the needs of the charity will constantly change.
If you want to find out more about the Trustee Leadership Programme or find out how we are celebrating 10 years this September, take a look at our website here or follow us on Twitter @TrusteeLeaders.