How to ‘bridge the gap’ between the private sector and nonprofit boards

Ian JosephIan Joseph is CEO of Trustees Unlimited, and co-author of the free guide ‘Bridging the Gap’ for people working in the private sector who are thinking of becoming a trustee, and for charities wanting to recruit from outside the sector. 

Many nonprofit organisations are crying out for trustees to join their boards and, with as many as one in five charities having a vacancy at board level, new trustees could be spoilt for choice. There are many rewards to be gained for people moving onto nonprofit boards – including supporting social change, being challenged in fresh ways, learning new skills and meeting people from different backgrounds, who can be inspirational. Yet, becoming a trustee isn’t just about helping out at a charity or fundraising; it involves running an organisation and taking on a serious level of responsibility that can be daunting.

New trustees often say they ‘want to give something back’ and hope their experience and wisdom and experience will be gratefully accepted. It can however be a shock for them to find that their sincere intentions are perceived as patronising and rejected or, worse, that they are treated as some kind of outcast with no real understanding of what is happening.

As sponsors of the Lord Mayor’s Charity Leadership programme, the year-long programme set up by Nicholas Woolf the Lord Mayor’s consort, to improve the effectiveness of charity chairs – we’ve produced a guide for new trustees – ‘Bridging the Gap: moving onto to nonprofit boards’, written in partnership with the Centre for Charity Effectiveness at Cass Business School and Mazars.

The guide is a useful read for anyone considering a trusteeship as it gives a succinct overview of the sector, the challenges involved in the role and what to expect.

Understanding cultural differences

The guide is designed to help people get a feel for the culture so they can decide if it’s the right thing for them to be taking on. It includes a series of chapters that highlight the differences in terms of behaviour and cultures people may encounter and offers advice on how to deal with them and on how to become successfully engaged as a trustee.

The guide covers:

  • the sector – context, composition and character
  • governance
  • culture
  • how to become a trustee.

‘The culture of the non-profit sector is different from that of the private sector. It is not better or worse, just different, and it is helpful to understand how to navigate the disparities.’

‘There are challenges in the world today which require the broad thinking and understanding that can be gained by putting together the knowledge and experience of those in all three sectors – public, private and voluntary. People who can navigate through the different cultures and sectors will be much better equipped to meet those challenges.’

The guide’s editor, Denise Fellows, director and CEO of consultancy and talent development practice, Cass CCE

Being sure about your motivation for becoming a trustee

In my chapter, ‘Know thyself – motivation’, I emphasise that the most important consideration for people is why they want to become a trustee at all. Research has shown that the reasons are often mixed, with one survey of potential and existing trustees suggesting that there are often mixed motives, notably 30 per cent keen to learn new skills and 30 per cent passionate about a particular cause. Making sure people understand their motivations, as well as the role of trustee is crucial. However anyone wanting to join a board must above all be passionate and committed to the objects of the organisation they are joining.

Find out more

Download the guide

If someone decides a trusteeship is for them the guide also has useful pointers on what skills are needed, where to find trustee roles and the importance of doing due diligence before accepting a role, as well as what to expect in the early days after joining.

Download the guide from the Cass website

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