Opinion: Third Voice - Let the tigers be tigers - but with a touch of kitten

Sue Douthwaite, senior visiting research fellow, Cass Business School

Recruiting trustees with much-needed skills from the world of business can prove difficult - but once recruited, why is it that in so many cases these business people do not bring their expertise with them?

Trustee boards are now required to become more - dare I say it - businesslike and professional in order to meet the increasing regulatory requirements, the responsibilities of providing leadership and the governance of the charity as a whole. So why does it appear that successful business and professional people fail to bring their success and skills with them?

Is the reason that we do not make clear which skills are required? This might well lead some people to abandon their pro-active business approach, deciding it is better to tread carefully, thus becoming kittens rather than tigers. This approach, sensitive though it might be to a charity's culture, does not really help the board to fulfil its role.

Do we assume that business and professional people want to continue their work roles into their trusteeships? The answer is often "yes we do". Perhaps by asking potential trustees what roles they would be interested in holding, the tiger would remain the tiger and bring inspiration and innovation to the charity.

However, business practice can bring with it challenges and the potential for change. The tigers can, on the one hand, unsettle and destabilise a well functioning board, but on the other hand can bring an influx of new ideas that might revise policies and procedures - essential to the development of a living, working strategy.

Do we stress trustee liabilities to such an extent that they overshadow trustee responsibilities, thus preventing some people from taking an active role in the all-important decision-making process? Silence for trustees is no excuse. In truth, carrying out responsibilities diligently - such as ensuring financial probity and acting as a good employer - goes a long way towards providing protection against legal action.

It has been said that business can learn a lot from charities. I believe that it is in fact a two-way learning process. Sharing knowledge, expertise and passion provides the ingredients for good governance, leadership and sustainability in an organisation. Is this the ideal, where tigers can be tigers but maybe with a kitten-like touch?

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