'A charity in many respects is like a small business, it does not run itself'

November 21st, 2017
Heather Nicholls

Trustees Week took place from 13th – 17th November 2017, an annual event to showcase the great work that trustees do. We caught up with Heather from RSPCA Hertfordshire East Branch to learn about what she does as a trustee and their importance to organisations.

How long have you been volunteering for RSPCA Hertfordshire East Branch? What made
you want to join and help?

Volunteering for me started 14 years ago when I adopted Emily, an adorable three-legged Jack Russell puppy, from the RSPCA. To show my appreciation I became a member of the RSPCA and volunteered to help collect money for the local branch on flag days.

Several years later, I agreed to become a trustee, my local branch was short of someone to chair committee meetings. By this time, I had learned a lot about the charity and the wonderful things it does to help animals and pet owners in need. Crucially, I had learned that the branch I was supporting was not part of the National RSPCA, it was an independent, separately registered charity, largely self-funded and reliant on local funds to support its local animal welfare activities.

What do you do as a trustee?

Like so many small charities, our branch was having problems fundraising and getting its message across that it was a small independent charity that needed money and volunteers to continue. Coming from a sales and marketing background, tackling these sorts of problems was just up my street, so I took this on and set up a small sub-team of trustees and volunteers to address them.

But being a trustee is not just about fundraising. A charity in many respects is like a small business; it does not run itself. It needs to have objectives, be steered in the right direction to achieve them and effectively tackle the problems that occur along the way. It also needs to manage its staff, not only in compliance with employment law but in a caring and ethical way. All of this is the trustees’ responsibility. Inevitably there are differences of opinion but, with the common denominator of everyone being passionate about animal welfare, problems are ironed out and progress made.

Why are trustees so important?

Trustees share the ultimate responsibility for governing a charity and directing how it is managed and run, ensuring it’s doing what it was set up to do and complying with the law. Without them there would be no branch; we need a minimum of seven trustees to operate.

What type of experience or skills do you need to become a Trustee?

There are no specific skills or qualifications required for being a trustee, but you do need to have a good helping of common sense and patience, ensure your views are heard and at the same time be a good listener. It’s best to have a diverse range of trustees. Those who have knowledge about the local area, are good at team work, problem solving and decision making are just as important as those who have skills and knowledge about finance, marketing, management etc.

How often do you volunteer for RSPCA Hertfordshire East Branch and balance it with other life commitments?

Being a trustee, as with any other form of volunteering, necessitates a carefully considered work/life balance. There is always so much to do and it is very easy to get sucked in to doing more and more. I personally set boundaries beyond which I won’t go, even if this means saying “no” to a request for help, which is hard at times. I strongly recommend this approach, volunteering should be a pleasure and rewarding, if it becomes onerous and a chore then it’s time to stop and that is bad news for the charity.

Being a trustee may be frustrating at times but it is hugely rewarding. I only have to chat to our Operations Manager, who helps people and animal’s day in day out, to know that my time is very well spent.

Our branch is always in need of more volunteers and trustees so if you are an animal lover looking for a small local charity to support we’d love to hear from you. Call 01462 672278 or email info@rspcahertseast.org.uk for more information. 



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