What trusteeship in 2020 can teach us for 2021

15 January 2021 | By Naomi Chapman

During 2020, we were delighted to feature a Trustee each month as part of our ‘Pick of the Month’, a publication highlighting the extraordinary people working across the charity sector. In the last year, the Trustees featured have supported charities across impact areas, from social care and cancer research, to publishing and youth leadership.

So what can we learn from these case studies of trusteeship, and how can they can inform governance practice going forwards?

Choosing the right charity matters: the Trustees we featured in 2020 stated a variety of motivations for joining the board of their charity, including being impressed by its work to date, having a personal connection to its cause or previous work, and viewing it as especially impactful.

“After some careful thought I decided I wanted to both give something back to the charity that had helped my own son, and do more to help other children and their families affected by this devastating cancer that took my son.”

Nick Bird, Solving Kids Cancer

These motivations are all valid, and will contribute to Trustees having the motivation required to fulfil governance duties. However, Cause4 also recommends that factors such as size of charity, its future strategy, and governance structures are also considered. The experience of being a Trustee varies hugely by charity and these structural factors will have a large impact on your enjoyment and impact in the role.


Trusteeship advances your career: as well as benefitting the charity which a Trustee governs, becoming a Trustee can deliver significant personal and professional benefits to those taking on the role. Amongst other things, gaining experience at board-level in an organisation can build strategic skills, financial confidence and new professional networks. 

For example, Adam Neal is a young visual artist who was motivated to join the board of Meadow Arts to learn more about how professional arts organisations run, and thus how he could best position his work in line with this.

“Being a Trustee has enabled me to use what I’ve learned in previous work and to remain connected to the bigger picture [in the sector].”

Norrine Betjemann, ArtsWork


Governance has changed and will continue to change: during 2020, the ways in which charities are governed changed, with virtual meetings replacing in-person ones, governance schedules shifting to respond to the ever-changing landscape, and new tools being utilised by charity boards. Many of the Trustees we featured mentioned an increased focus on finance and fundraising in 2020 to ensure sustainability and survival of the charity.

For example, the board of Creative Support in Stockport now meets digitally, and Trustees have begun to communicate on a chat tool. The board is moving to a full digitalisation of papers, and minutes. 

“The most important change due to Covid-19 has been in understanding, kindness and camaraderie. Being a social care charity provider at this time is challenging, troubling and at times very sad…I feel in the eye of the trouble we have most definitely pulled together in strength and in support of what's most important”.

Joolz Casey, Creative Support

Many of the changes in 2020 have also made board roles more accessible, and Cause4 believes that this trend should be accelerated. Covid-19 has shown that entrenched governance practices can change when they have to, and if existing mechanisms are excluding potential Trustees from joining your board, changes should be made.

“I understand the difficulties young people can face in getting into governance. From meeting times and affording travel to feeling confident in such environments, many barriers are hidden and hard to break down. People have been talking about board diversity for decades; what we need now is meaningful action. I joined the movement to accelerate the pace of change, be part of a supportive network and to shine a light on best practice.”

Kira Lewis, British Youth Council

Want to become a Trustee but don’t know where to start? Sign up for our Trustee Leadership Programme, a two part virtual training course in the essentials of charity governance.

The Trustee Leadership Programme was a fantastic general introduction to the role and responsibilities of a charity trustee. The trainer, Michelle Wright, was very knowledgeable and I would recommend the course to anyone else who is relatively new to the charity sector or to the Trustee role.

Lorna Celnik, Maryhill Burgh Halls Trust


Follow the Trustee Leadership Programme on Twitter at @TrusteeLeaders


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