Focus: Finance and Governance - Trustee talk - Jessica Morris, chair, Sheila McKechnie Foundation

The idea for something to be set up in Sheila McKechnie's name really got going at her memorial service in May 2004. I was asked to chair something in Sheila's name in September last year.

We formed a group of trustees based on people who knew Sheila and whose skills covered a range of areas, from fundraising to campaigning. The key to our success was having a really strong core proposition. The governance arrangements then supported the development of a strategy around that core proposition.

In the beginning, we met monthly. We now meet twice a month and we had an away day before Christmas to talk about our vision and how to develop it. I think it's important to have time for creative discussions as well as the more mundane practices of progressing work. The current structure is working well, but we are anxious to keep it under review. When you have a start-up, what is right in the first six months can often change.

At first, we had no chief executive so the board was effectively doing everything. We now have a fantastic chief executive and a strong emerging team, so the board is going through a process of being less hands-on.

But there is still a lot of work to be done on development and strategic support.

Our first awards are coming up on 27 March. We thought that in the first year it was important for trustees to be quite involved. As a result, the foundation is represented either by a trustee or by the chief executive in each of the award categories. That allows us to maximise our learning from the awards.

I would recommend trustees of a start-up charity to be very clear about their roles and respect the need for chief executives who arrive after the organisation is up and running to have the space and freedom to set their own course.

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