Our Trustees in Conversation series aims to inspire people to join a board of trustees to help UK charities to create a more equitable society. Click here to register your interest in becoming a trustee.
Henry also enjoys an impactful career as Director of External Affairs at Asthma and Lung UK, having previously worked in policy and influencing roles across the housing and health sectors.
What inspired you about Gingerbread UK?
Gingerbread UK is the only charity that specifically supports single parents. Single parents were hugely affected by the pandemic, not just in terms of accessing financial and childcare support, but also facing barriers to work.
I wanted to find a trusteeship in a charity I was interested in, but was also slightly different from my professional background. Having previously worked in housing and health, it made sense to look at children’s charities, as well as being able to support and advocate for those on welfare.
Finding an organisation that aligns with your passions will encourage you to bring your best, stay interested and support the organisation to be the best it can be.
What did you learn in your first year as a trustee?
Firstly, your role as a trustee is to ensure the organisation is being run properly, and this governance side is critical to get your head around.
The second part is to make sure that the strategy is right, and that the organisation is going in the right direction. As a trustee, you must provide input about how to guide the organisation through potential challenges or difficult situations.
The main lesson for me is that it’s quite different from working within an organisation to actually being a trustee. You really have to take that bigger picture view and leave the operations to the executive team and the staff.
What qualities do you think are important for somebody coming into a trustee role?
Ultimately, you have to be personally connected to the organisation and feel strongly about what it’s trying to achieve.
You also have to have the ability to listen and get your head around all the different facets of what an organisation does, from finances to campaigning to how their services work. And you have to apply your own experience to an organisation, you have to work as a team with other trustees to make sure the organisation is moving forward.
How do you feel you’ve made an impact on the board?
We have a range of trustees who come from campaigning and influencing backgrounds across different sectors.
I also sit on the fundraising, brand and influencing subcommittee for Gingerbread, reviewing the visual identity of the organisation, from the logo to the persona and determining what emotions you want people to feel about the organisation.
This, alongside our work in the campaigning sphere, will be hugely important in gaining support and spreading the message of our purpose.
What should potential trustees look for in a board role?
The first step is to really think about the causes you’re passionate about and what you’d like to achieve in the non-executive world, and then find a charity that champions that cause.
The next step is considering what skills and experience you can bring to ensure diversity to the board. Your abilities and experiences should really complement others on the board so that you have a good mix of backgrounds, ideas and experiences.
What’s your favourite part of being a trustee?
Even though it’s also a challenge, my favourite part is having the strategic oversight, without having to get into the operational side.
Not having to get caught up in the detail means that I can provide value by encouraging the executive team to think about things a little differently, without the direct concern of stakeholder management and the in-depth detail – you’re able to give your thoughts completely freely.
What advice do you have for new trustees who think a board role might be too much to take on?
I don’t think it needs to be that onerous. I think Covid was a particularly challenging time with financial pressures, the move to working remotely and the need for decisions to be made quickly. But I think we’re moving out of that now, and I think it can be as big of a commitment as you want it to be.
Reading and understanding the papers and then coming to a meeting really isn’t a huge expense of time, but there are opportunities to get more involved by joining sub-committees tailored to your strengths.
It doesn’t need to be onerous, but it is really rewarding.
Jennifer Horan is a Managing Consultant for our Board Practice. In 2022 alone, she found positions on charity boards for over 75 candidates, across disability and social care sectors, from health, addiction, animal welfare and community and LGBT+ groups. If you’re looking to join a board of trustees, you can register your interest here; or please contact Jennifer to start recruiting for your charity board.