Published: 31 October 2012

Dust off your trustees!

At a time when the under-regulation of our financial institutions has resulted in global chaos, over-regulation of the charity sector has caused difficulties for those whom charities serve.

As a chief executive, I am struck by the checks and balances faced by trustee boards that add no customer value and only serve to bury trustees in mounds of risk assessments and internal management processes that at best slows decision making and at worst threatens entrepreneurialism.

It wasn’t like this when debtors’ prisons were a reality! In those far off days many of the great British social entrepreneurs threw caution to the wind and, motivated by the need to do good, started up charities that have survived to this day.

Communicators should do their bit

We, the communicators, should do our bit to create the environment where trustees rededicate themselves to being the board representatives of the customers rather than agents that preserve the status quo. William Shawcross, the new chair of the Charity Commission, has challenges, many of them economic. I’d like to offer him our collective knowledge of marketing and communications to demonstrate where checks and balances add real value to the lives of our customers and where they preserve unwanted overheads.

Here’s where to start

In general, trustees are anonymous and invisible. In larger charities it would be difficult to find an employee who could name all of the members of the board. Yet, the Charity Commission tell us that they are responsible for running the show! Let’s get them out of the shadows and let them shine.

If trustees saw themselves as the champions of the beneficiaries and donors, they would challenge management to be more creative, more ambitious and more forward-looking. Let’s expose trustees to our beneficiaries. At RLSB we invite our trustees to our youth Achievement Awards twice a year and the increased emotional understanding that trustees get is a real boost for them, our beneficiaries and the organisation.

When did you last hear the voice of your trustees? Directly, that is, not hidden behind minutes that say, “it was decided” by a group that seems to sit behind the organisation rather than at the front. Let your beneficiaries, staff and volunteers hear the voice of your trustees.

As communicators we know the benefit of two way communication – perfect for trustees and beneficiaries. Guide Dogs use stakeholder briefings as a great way of getting trustees in front of customers that result in open exchanges and trustees who are better informed to ask more searching questions of management. Now isn’t that a better result than long discussions about processes that cannot be shown to add value?


Tom Pey, chief executive officer, Royal London Society for Blind People

CharityComms member Royal London Society for Blind People exists to help blind and partially sighted young people live life without limits. Everyday RLSB is in contact with blind young people who are adamant that they’re not disabled, they just can’t see everything.