Opinion: Third Voice - The rough guide to ... chairing a board of trustees

Lesley Hynes

Good boards don't just happen - they need work. When I took over as chair of Wysing Arts in Cambridgeshire, my predecessor stayed on as a member of the board.

Initially, this made me nervous, but I very soon discovered how helpful it was. I had back-up - someone nearby who knew what it felt like - and their remaining presence ensured continuity. With the nervousness out of the way, I was able to concentrate on what we did best - getting passionate about the visual arts - and what, historically, we didn't do as well: providing leadership and strategic management.

My first job was to get a strategic plan in place. My second was to seek new board members with the skills the existing board lacked - initially finance, marketing, building management and recruitment.

Four new members were recruited within a year. I soon realised that the next important thing I had to do was to keep the new board happy so that they would stay long enough to make a difference. This was achieved by asking members for specific help in their areas of expertise, by trying to socialise a bit more (the odd barbecue after a summer meeting goes down well) and by keeping the meetings as focused and upbeat as possible.

The rest wasn't exactly plain sailing, but it was positive, energetic and hugely fulfilling. I see our board as constantly in flux, which is a good thing. It has a healthy mix of old and new members who are active in debate, devote a decent amount of time - and money - to the cause and know when to get involved and when to stand back.

So my advice would be to be proactive. Give yourself three years as a chair, and have an eye on a successor as soon as possible. And keep close to the cause - we ask an artist to come and talk about their work before every board meeting.

Furthermore, don't be afraid to ask the busiest and most influential people to join your board. Make each board meeting count - in general, trustees meet only about four times a year - and don't shy away from awkwardness.

It's important to deal with problems, because charities don't have the budgets to manage around them.

My three years as a chair are up and I have only recently handed over to my successor. To mark the occasion, we had a barbecue - you see, I do put my money where my mouth is.

- Lesley Hynes, a freelance fundraiser, is a trustee and immediate past chair of Wysing Arts in Cambridgeshire.

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