Welcome to the second edition of our ‘Trustees in Conversation’ series, where we chat with Síofra Healy.
Síofra is on the Board of Trustees at the Association of Charitable Foundations (ACF). ACF is the membership body for UK foundations and grant-making charities. Driven by a belief that foundations are a vital source for social good, ACF’s mission is to support them to be ambitious and effective in the way that they use their resources.
Síofra has over 30 years’ experience in the voluntary sector. She has been Director of Philanthropy at the Community Foundation Northern Ireland (NI) since 2017, where she leads on philanthropy services, the promotion and development of philanthropy, funding strategy and communications. She previously worked with several local and national charities including The Simon Community, The Prince’s Trust and Northern Ireland Hospice. A mum of four, Síofra is also a board member of Bryson Care, a large social enterprise in NI.
How did you become a trustee?
I was approached by my Foundation (Community Foundation (NI)) to go forward for nomination to become an ACF Trustee. ACF at the time were proactively seeking broad representation from members on the board including from those outside of England.
What interested you in becoming a trustee?
In NI, many charitable funders engage with ACF. And actually, Northern Ireland is an important strategic region for many UK trusts and foundations.
I believe it is important to have a diverse board with input, experience and voice from grassroots foundations represented at ACF. The opportunity to contribute to discussion, strategy and governance from an NI perspective interested me. The leadership role that ACF plays in inspiring and supporting foundations to be ambitious and effective also inspired me to get involved, and working for an independent charitable trust in NI and as a member of other local networks such as the Funders Forum for Northern Ireland, Philanthropy Ireland and UK Community Foundations, I could see connections and wanted to make a contribution.
What does your role as a trustee involve?
Apart from regular trustee meetings where decisions are made, there are opportunities to get further involved as a trustee at the committee level and in specific areas of ACF’s strategic priorities – that could be about input into policy, stronger foundations, equality, diversity and inclusion and/or climate change. Most recently, the board and leadership team at ACF came together to begin the next phase in our strategic plan.
What qualities do you think are important for those in a trustee role?
I think it’s important to be aligned personally with the values and purpose of the organisation where you are a trustee. As in any leadership position, knowledge and experience of a particular skill, and appropriate area of work or profession can also be important qualities.
I am also a trustee of Bryson Care, a large social enterprise in NI. Having worked in hospice care and business development for many years, I contribute to the Bryson Care strategy and governance. As an advocate and/or ambassador for others, whether that is a cause, area, member, beneficiary or an issue, you also need to be willing and able to contribute to meetings, discussions and specific areas of work as a trustee. Making decisions together and collectively is part of a trustee’s role, and the ability to see the bigger picture and think strategically are essential qualities.
What challenges do you face as a trustee?
The challenges faced can be around big picture stuff and in discussions and decision-making, ensuring I am considering a wider context and a supportive challenge, often in areas where I’m not an expert.
What is your favourite part of being a trustee?
I enjoy having the opportunity to input into the direction of ACF and the hugely important role it plays for and with foundations in NI and across the UK. My favourite part is the connections I can make and the lightbulb moments I get when meeting and working with others through ACF.
How, if at all, does your trustee role enable you to engage with policy?
ACF proactively takes a lead on policy issues affecting trusts and foundations, and as a trustee, I engage on policy issues regularly. Recent examples include responding to the commission on race and ethnic disparities and climate change. I also engage with policy direction in NI, which can be different to England, Scotland and Wales, and I feed these anomalies into ACF at board level.
How have you been able to demonstrate the value your knowledge and experience bring to the table as a trustee? Could you please give an example of your personal impact on the board?
As a trustee based in NI and with experience outside of England, I have added value to the ACF board, most recently as we begin our strategic review and plans for the future. Working in NI and within networks and policymaking forums here, I have also promoted and advocated for ACF, adding value to ACF’s mission here in NI.
For those who may be interested in taking on a trustee role, what would you say they should be looking for in adverts/postings about these roles?
An advert that is clear about the role, what’s involved and who they are looking for is very helpful. Look for the skills required, constituencies or particular gaps to be filled and any challenges faced. Postings should also clearly highlight the organisation’s purpose and values, people and plans so that potential applicants can identify with the organisation.
What tips would you give to those looking to find the right trustee position for them?
I would first think about why you want to be a trustee and what you want to achieve. Look for organisations, causes or issues you are interested in or passionate about and think about why and how you might make a difference. There are numerous opportunities to become trustees of charitable organisations, some elected, some appointed, and many have difficulty finding the right people.
If there is a particular organisation you are interested in, become a member, engage with them, let them know about your interest. Research what’s involved in terms of responsibility, time and commitment, how decisions are made and apply to be a trustee if appropriate.