Home Archive December2011 Opinion:Beth Murray
Wednesday, 14 December 2011 16:11

In not taking advantage of trusteeship vacancies, are communicators missing out on a fantastic opportunity to give back and at the same time enhance their careers? Beth Murray, account director at Lansons Communications, thinks so

While many PR officers would like to be more actively charitable in reality there is rarely a spare day without demands from work, family and friends. These time-poor professionals are precisely the sort of people who could benefit from trusteeship: taking a position on the board of a charity.

As charities struggle to maintain levels of funding, few smaller charities have the resources to employ an internal PR officer but could hugely benefit from a public relations and marketing perspective on their board. At the same time, trusteeship gives professionals the opportunity to experience board level decision making.
 
Organisations such as Getting on Board, a charity that works with employers and professional associations to encourage their employees and members to volunteer for boards, have discovered that an important element in attracting busy professional people is an understanding of their wider motivation. “Of course young professionals want to contribute to society, but they also welcome the fact that board level volunteering helps their professional development at the same time,” explains Sarah Hodgkinson, chief executive of Getting on Board.
 
I’ve personally benefited from a charity trustee role. It sounds like a cliché, but I knew I wanted to “give something back”. I just wasn’t sure how to go about it, and like the majority of my colleagues I don’t have the spare time at the moment to spend my weekends and evenings doing hands-on volunteering. When an email went around work asking us to attend a seminar on the process of becoming a trustee, I attended more out of curiosity than anything.
 
The focus of the discussion was on how our existing professional skills could benefit a charity, and what this could do for our CVs. I spend much of my professional life raising clients’ profiles to increase their revenues. The seminar addressed how as public relations professionals, we had skills that many charities would love to benefit from but simply couldn’t afford. I found a great role at Bag Books, a UK charity producing multi-sensory stories for people with learning disabilities.
 
Francesca Pattison, associate director at Lansons, joined the trustee board of the UK’s largest breast cancer charity, Breast Cancer Care, earlier this year and has found herself immersed in a range of areas outside communications. “I get to work directly with the senior management team on long-term strategy for the charity which encompasses things I wouldn’t normally get to do so much of in my everyday work. It’s a steep learning curve, but trustees have a massive role to play in leading charities through difficult times. Not only are they ultimately legally responsible for everything that goes on at a charity, but the senior management team really values having additional sounding boards and guidance from experienced professionals. It’s not a role to be taken lightly but it’s hugely rewarding.”
 
Sarah Miller, head of press and public affairs for the Charity Commission, agrees: “Strong and diverse trustee boards make better charities but sadly nearly half of all charities have at least one vacancy on their trustee boards. Being a charity trustee can be a win win situation for communications professionals; you give your time and expertise to the charity which needs it, and in return you get valuable experience.”