Viewpoint: Is this founder-member syndrome?

If your charity has grown and no longer needs your skills as a trustee, it could be time to move.

In theory, every trustee board is keen on change - as long as it is for the better. It means their charities are succeeding in their aims. But when change happens, even if it is undeniably positive, it can also confront us with uncomfortable questions about ourselves and how far we are able to change.

OK, I'll stop using the 'we' and admit that it's me who is uncomfortable. At our end of year trustee meeting at Aspire, there were moments when I felt less like the chair and more like the master of ceremonies as my fellow, very able trustees reported back on the work of the sub-groups they head, which oversee different aspects of the charity's work. It is, I reflected afterwards, a product of growing bigger and more professional - and is something to be welcomed.

Once - and I am as old as the sea in Aspire terms - the trustees were also the ones stuffing the envelopes, picking up the phone and doing a bit of photocopying in the shed that was our office. But the charity is 25 this year and, over the years, the number of employees has grown, along with the charity's projects and ambitions. Which is precisely what we always wanted.

And with that has come upheaval in the trustee body itself - horses for courses, as it were. Out have gone the envelope-stuffers (although I'm sure we could all turn our hand to it if absolutely necessary) and in have come individuals with professional skills in the areas where the charity now works.

All good. And yet, I miss that old hands-on role. Perhaps I am succumbing to the founder-member syndrome that plagues younger charities. But then, I'm not the founder and I certainly don't want the organisation to stand still. It comes down to perspective. I alone of my colleagues can put today's events in the context of 25 years ago. That should be a plus - to realise how far you can come ought to inspire you to keep aiming high.

But it could also be an inhibitor. So the new year resolution for me is "don't become an obstacle". Ask the right questions, urge caution, but never caution for caution's sake. And if you are more comfortable in a smaller set-up where your manual labour is needed as much as your intellectual powers, it might be time to transfer those skills to a setting where they are more needed. Without self-knowledge, trustees can become a burden.

- Peter Stanford is a writer and broadcaster, chairman of Aspire and director of the Frank Longford Charitable Trust.

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