Charities must focus on their mission regardless of the external situation, Girish Menon, chief executive of ActionAid UK, has said.
Menon delivered the opening keynote at Trustee Exchange Online, a two-day event run by Civil Society Media.
He said: “The role of trustees and the power of governance could not have been more under the spotlight at this point in time.”
ActionAid UK is focusing on “building back better” and has external and internal goals. The external focus means continuing to be mission-focused.
Menon said: “The one thing the trustees constantly encouraged in different ways, was irrespective of what you are handling and irrespective of what is happening around us, which is completely out of our control, the one thing you can control is to be mission-focused.
“So focus on your mission. Remember who you are, remember what your purpose is, remember what you are here to deliver and make sure that is what we are doing all the time.”
Menon described this as “a lighthouse moment”, akin to being at sea in a turbulent storm, and seeking the comfort of a lighthouse to guide you.
He said it seems normal to focus on mission, “but at that time when there is so much happening around you, when you are trying to calm the anxieties within the organisation, when you are trying to make sure that staff are safe, your income is secured – that is a very strong piece of advice from trustees”.
For Menon, focusing on the mission is then divided into two broad parts.
First is the income side, “financial security and sustainability”, but second is the influencing side, “in terms of working with the UK government so that we can be seen as constructive and a genuine partner in leading the global Covid-19 pandemic response”.
Internal goals: Feminist principles and proactive trustees
The internal focus entails acknowledging the importance of “being true to your internal culture”, he said.
ActionAid UK has signed up to feminist principles and focuses on these behaviours. For example, “self care and caring for others” was emphasised during the crisis.
Menon said the staff team have been working more closely with the board and tapping into their expertise “to adjust ourselves to the new realities and the new normal”.
This has included “trustees coming forward and saying ‘how can we help beyond our normal governance functions?’ So every trustee has got a governance function, but there was a reminder from them that ‘as we think about a new world and as there are so many unknowns, tap into us and tap into our expertise, and make more use of our expertise’”.
Menon noted that technology has been a “leveller” in terms of how staff are able to engage with trustees.
He said: “Sometimes I realise there might be some hesitation on behalf of staff to approach trustees because trustees invariably tend to be very busy and they are volunteers.”
Therefore, it is helpful “if trustees can actually make themselves available” and give “permission to use their time”. This stops this “perceived barrier” and “hesitation”, he said.
“I would really encourage trustees to engage more directly with staff” to find out what opportunities there are, Menon concluded.
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