Is the future of trustees corporate?

28 Jun 2012 Voices

Rosie Chapman looks at the incentives for volunteering across sectors and asks: are marketisation and spending cuts making the future look corporate in the search for trustees?

Rosie Chapman looks at the incentives for volunteering across sectors and asks: are marketisation and spending cuts making the future look corporate in the search for trustees?

I was speaking to a senior NHS medical professional the other day. She’s currently a trustee of a medium-sized medical charity, providing them with invaluable skills and experience. Historically, this NHS employee has been able to take time off, and to ‘box and cox’ her work pattern to enable her to fulfil her trustee role. She’s benefitted, the charity has benefitted and the NHS had benefitted from the added insight she gained through her trusteeship. However she told me that, as part of the NHS’s decision to operate an internal market for its services, she’s now required to account for every hour of her time. And the NHS’s standard practice and leave policy does not allow time off for trustee duties, except in the case of ‘public bodies’. Given this policy, and her heavy workload, the doctor I spoke to was not sure for how much longer she’d be able to continue in her trustee role.

Elsewhere in the public sector, similar pressures apply. And that’s despite the government promoting the notion of the civil service as a ‘civic service’ in their Giving White Paper. In February 2011 it was also announced that every civil servant would be encouraged to do at least one day of volunteering each year using special leave, with the aim of the civil service employees giving 30,000 volunteering days per year. Given the current climate and job cuts, I wonder whether that target’s been reached?

Another source for trusteeship is the employees of other charities. I can think of endless examples of where a charity employee is a trustee, or often the chair, of another charity. The Small Charities Coalition, Acevo, and Mind are just three examples of charities whose chair or vice chair also works for a charity. And if you look at any charity’s list of trustees, you’ll very quickly see how many people working in the charitable sector are also trustees.

'Something has got to give eventually'

I wonder what time pressures these people are currently facing as the latest NCVO survey of charity leaders sees charities battling with an increased demand for their services despite being hit by multiple financial pressures. As Sir Stuart Etherington puts it: “The sector is already doing a lot more with much less, and something has got to give eventually.” I wonder if one of the things that will ‘give’ is charities' willingness to let their employees take time off to carry out trustee roles in other charities?

I compared the situation in the public and charity sector with some recent conversations I’ve had with employees at RBS and Barclays. Now I know the banking world is not without its reputational problems, but I was struck by both banks' really good records on employee volunteering. The people I spoke to told me that they were encouraged to volunteer, and that they were allowed some time off to do so. For example, Barclays employees are given time off and up to £500 in grants to support their volunteering activities. Elsewhere, in the insurance industry Aviva pay their staff up to three days a year for volunteering activities. I’m sure some of these examples of volunteering take the form of trusteeship. These firms aren’t just doing it for love; they see it as good business sense as well.

Whilst corporates are by no means perfect, and the motives behind their increasing emphasis on CSR may be as much about rebuilding trust as they are for altruistic reasons, is there more that charities and the public sector could do in this area?

If marketisation is now the reality for the public sector, perhaps there should be more calls for the equivalent of a strong corporate social responsibility ethos to match? As well as their online Employee Volunteering Check Up tool, Business in the Community also publishes a Corporate Responsibility index each year. Might something similar, which incorporates the extent to which these organisations encourage volunteering, including trusteeship, be encouraged for public sector bodies?

Likewise could charities, larger charities especially, do more to develop a more structured approach to encouraging their staff to take up trustee roles and other volunteering opportunities? I’m sure many do, but when I was researching this blog I couldn’t find much in the way of evidence of charities talking about their employees’ volunteering activities. I’m sure if charities put a value to their employees' engagement with other charities it would be extremely impressive and worth publicising. Returning to the recent NCVO survey, it found that a third of charities are planning to increase their workforce over the next three months. These new employees could be the trustees of tomorrow. A total reward package which values their contribution to other charities would be well worth shouting about.

Rosie Chapman is a consultant at Belinda Pratten and Rosie Chapman Associates


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