Elizabeth Balgobin: A baptism of fire can be the best start for a new trustee

It shows the mettle of the new person to grasp what is going on, get involved and make appropriate contributions, writes our columnist

Elizabeth Balgobin
Elizabeth Balgobin

Even when you know how to do something perfectly, life sometimes conspires against you and you have to roll with the punches. "What is she on about this month?" I hear you cry. The recruitment and induction of trustees - that's what.

A quick update. At Voice4Change England we were looking for a treasurer and one or two others to co-opt to the board. The elections will take place at the AGM in November and we will start looking for my replacement as independent chair in September, but with so many organisations in the black and minority ethnic bit of the sector struggling, we needed to strengthen the board now.

We used Twitter, we used the internet and we spoke to people. We found one ideal candidate to join us and found that treasurers are rarer than hens' teeth. Has everyone caught up? Then on with the story.

Life conspired against me, so I did not have the chance to meet our new trustee for an induction before her first board meeting. This situation was not ideal, but nor was it the end of the world. She had the papers and there was nothing particularly difficult or contentious to be discussed at the meeting.

Potential threat

A couple of days before the meeting, things came up and had to go on the agenda. It began to look a bit more interesting because an unanticipated presentation and a potential threat were added. There was nothing I could do about it. We also had to change the venue of the meeting at the last minute, but these things happen.

From my point of view as chair, none of this was as I would want it to be. From my point of view as a governance consultant, every bit of me was screaming to try to put things back in order - to squeeze in a meeting, give her a full briefing on past and current thinking, and get all of the policies and procedures over to her as fast as possible. The practical side of me got a grip and I realised that none of this was life or death. I've worked in organisations where life and death really are at stake. Infrastructure, support and umbrella organisations just don't face the same issues.

There followed a board meeting with some interesting debates, some key decisions and a particular issue where we had to take care to follow the policies and procedures. Not our average meeting.

Wise contribution

Looking back, I am very impressed with the significant, wise and considered contribution made by the newest member of the board. She challenged us, brought insight and ideas and rolled with those punches.

I am now leaning towards baptism by fire in preference to an ordered induction, consisting as it does of a staged introduction to the rest of the board and exposure to the full board meeting. The alternative shows the mettle of the new person to grasp what is going on, get involved and make appropriate contributions. A bit of naive questioning is also always very useful because there is so much we all take for granted. Going over what might feel like old ground, but with new purpose, moved things onwards. It got the board out of a rut.

Induction process

Now we are in the middle of the induction process, but it's back to front. The next board meeting won't be until the autumn, but there will be a finance meeting - it's end-of-year accounts audit time. Our newest trustee will meet the staff and spend some time learning about what they do. She will be able to attend events we are holding. Then I will sit down with her and go through how she found all of this, and more.

I'm looking forward to this meeting. I will get to see the organisation through someone else's eyes, particularly those of someone I already admire and who, I know, wants what is in the best interests of the organisation. Importantly, a view from a personality who is willing and able to challenge appropriately. As for the process, what's perfect anyway? Know what to do and do what works best for the circumstances you find yourself in.

I'm off to find a treasurer before starting the search for a new chair. Let me know if you are interested or know anyone who might be. I have kept the pledge I made here to get myself doing the 'twitting' thing, so I am easy to get hold of now.

Elizabeth Balgobin, chair of Voice4Change England and a charity governance consultant

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