• Sadaf

A guide on trusteeship and getting involved in governance

“I’m proud to be a Londoner” *insert songs from Oliver*

I’m a Londoner born and raised, and like many Londoners, it’s how I define myself. The city was my playground as a child, my gateway into discovering new cultures and experiences and is now the backdrop to my career. Anthropologist Steve Basso writes that meaning can be found in space, and for me, the story of my life is written into the City's streets.

What’s that got to do with trusteeship?

During my career, I’ve worked across multiple sectors, including in charities. I became painfully aware of the lack of intersectional identities within senior leadership teams, board members, and ultimately trustees. I, like so many people, joined the charity sector full of idealistic expectations, but experienced some very interesting behaviour. So many people experience toxic work cultures, racism, and personality politics within charities, leading to movements like #CharitySoWhite and the various bullying incidents that have surfaced from within charities over the last few years. These aren’t issues that solely affect the charity sector, obviously, but 92% of charity trustees are white, and according to the Young Trustees Movement, fewer than 3% of trustees are under 30. I found yet another space to become a minority within a minority - so I figured why not?

Personally, I’ve witnessed disappointing behaviour by trustees both first and second hand, and saw trusteeship as a means to address asymmetrical power relations within the sector and bring new voices to leadership. I believe that more diverse voices have the ability to help challenge problematic behaviours within the sector, and shift away from potential echo chambers of opinion.

The ode to London explains why I chose Groundwork London as a charity to be a trustee of. I felt privileged to have grown up in the City when I did, but children now experience levels of deprivation and inequality that many in my generation were able to escape. The infrastructure that shaped so much of my formative years including youth clubs, and summer activity camps feel as if they’ve disappeared. Groundwork London helps address that, and so much more - from loneliness to the environment, the charity helps shape London into a sustainable City from a social and environmental lens.

How does one become a trustee?

To be honest, I just applied. After discovering Groundwork London was looking for a trustee, I thought about what I could offer the organisation and like all other roles, I submitted a CV and cover letter for the job. After having a few chats with other trustees, I was in! It might seem daunting for some, but it’s actually a pretty simple process. Younger people are more likely to be digitally native than some of our more experienced colleagues, so if you’re nervous, applying for roles as the “digital trustee” might be a good place to start.

So, what do trustees actually do?

When you’re in a charity, your trustees can sometimes feel like mythical beings who occasionally turn up to meetings and make you write lots of papers. The part about meetings and papers isn't entirely untrue - the weekend before a trustee meeting is basically a write-off for me because there are so many papers to read. As a trustee you’re also legally and financially responsible for a charity, which is a lot of responsibility, and why reading the papers is so important. The rest are quite charity specific, some might have a hands-on board, but others might just need you to attend quarterly meetings and any sub-committees that you might have.

Further reading and helpful resources:

* This blog was originally published on the Groundwork London website.

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