Focus: Finance and Governance - Trustee talk - Charlotte Gascoigne, Working Families

I have been involved with Working Families since it was formed in 2003, after the merger of New Ways to Work and Parents at Work. I was a trustee of New Ways to Work for two years before that.

When the charities merged, we were awarded a grant to employ an external facilitator to talk through the legal structure of the two organisations, their charitable objects and what we were trying to achieve through the merger. The facilitator was a management consultant from a firm called Cordis Bright.

This was quite a lengthy process - there were probably six meetings between key trustees from both sides and the two chief executives to talk through how the merger might work. We had been aware of each other for 20 years, operating in parallel but slightly different spheres. Both organisations were very small and suspected that a single, joint organisation would be more viable. But it was a question of making sure that there really was a fit - and that we were trying to achieve the same things. It was useful to have an external facilitator. She did a good job in terms of asking all the right questions.

The structure we came up with for the board was to have 12 trustees in total - four from each of the old organisations and four completely new trustees who had not been involved with either New Ways to Work or Parents at Work. We decided to bring in the new trustees because it's quite easy to get into entrenched positions about your own organisation and your own area. We wanted some external, neutral people who weren't in either of the camps.

That mix worked really well. Within a year or so, we had all stopped thinking of each other as coming from one or the other of the previous charities. Instead, we saw ourselves as trustees of Working Families.

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