Hearts as well as minds make for committed trustees

Away day sessions, blogs, guides and presentations regularly emphasise that trustees should stay away from the everyday and remain focussed on a charity’s strategic direction and governance.

Those two areas are, of course, the backbone of any charity and demand focus, and – unless there’s a problem – being down in the weeds is not what trustees are there for. Plus, with too much involvement, the charity’s professionals could end up with some potentially difficult-to-challenge and time-consuming interference that takes them away from the day-job.

However, disconnection from the day-to-day work of the charity and its purpose can dull our understanding of just how important its work is and, therefore, damage the quality of our strategic thinking.

Even more importantly, disconnection can also make us lose touch with why we got involved in the first place – and snuff out the fire in our belly as a result.

At Community Foundation Wales (CFW), we trustees are very focused on our strategic role and take seriously our governance responsibilities, as you would expect – and our discussions on its future direction are healthy, creative and absorbing.

While I really enjoy exploring how the organisation could develop in the future, the motivation to stay at the Board table comes from being involved. The trustees have opportunities to visit projects the Community Foundation supports and our Board meetings are held all over Wales so we can meet local groups face-to-face and see what they do first-hand.

Hearing real people’s stories and about the difference a project is making to their lives and feeling the passion of people delivering that difference is what keeps me coming back and, my fellow trustees tell me, is their favourite part of the role.

In this sense (and many others, of course!), I feel fortunate to be a trustee of a Community Foundation. As the trusted partner of philanthropic organisations and individuals, charged with making sure their investment gets to the right people and places, a Community Foundation has to be particularly good at staying in touch with grass roots projects. And, with such a complex mosaic of diverse communities in Wales, we have to be even better.

Philanthropic clients come to Community Foundation Wales for our professional team’s understanding of how the needs of Welsh communities are best met, their due diligence of community causes and their expert assessment of the impact they have. That demands plenty of contact with grass roots community organisations throughout Wales. So it’s very easy for the team to extend that contact to us trustees, whenever appropriate.

We’re also encouraged to take part in grants panels, and helping decide which causes to support is an utter privilege. Our grants panels are made up of a diverse mix of people, including those with lived experience if possible, and members of local communities. Although the expert management of our Grants team makes it easy for us, reviewing all applications and summarising those that are eligible, it is tough! Being involved at this most pointy end of operations gives me an invaluable window on the panels’ rigorous pursuit of fairness and respect as well as the grim reality that there are always more requests than can be met. (Another driver that keeps trustees committed.)

While I enjoy our Boards and Committees, I certainly didn’t become a trustee because I needed more meetings, policies and strategic decision-making in my life. I joined because I’m passionate about community and I care about people who don’t get a fair deal. Staying connected to how Community Foundation Wales is helping on that front keeps me keen and determined to do what I can to see it help even more in the future.

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