I'm getting much more out of the experience than I put in …

Raphaelle Vallet

This week is Trustees Week 2017! At TimeBank we are not only celebrating the great work that the one million or so trustees do for the UK charity sector, but also preparing to welcome new recruits on our Board. So there’s really no better time to reflect on my two and half years since joining TimeBank as a trustee – and, as I turned 25 last week, to share my perspective on the role young trustees can play on boards.

I was just 22 when I became a trustee at TimeBank. I applied for the role because I had read a lot about ‘young trustees’ – those 0.5% of trustees aged 18-24 who don’t let their age stop them from contributing to issues they care about, and I felt compelled to give it a go.I had already benefited hugely from mentoring programmes at work and volunteering experiences at university, so I felt like my values were completely in sync with those of TimeBank. About two and a half years on, here’s an overview of some of the key things I’ve learnt.

The power of stupid questions

My first ever board meeting was a pretty terrifying experience. I was the youngest in the room and the only person without experience of working in the charity sector (or any sector, for that matter!). I couldn’t come up with anything of value to say and hadn’t dared to say anything at all. I left the meeting wondering if my presence was the result of an unfortunate administrative mistake! But I had watched and learned a lot about the role of the CEO, Chair and trustees; how board meetings run; how charities manage their finances; comms and fundraising strategies… In fact I was so busy taking it all in that I didn’t say anything at the second board meeting either. By the third meeting I finally managed to take part, though I spent about 60% of my speaking time apologising for asking stupid questions.

Today I still see my role on the Board as the Asker of Stupid Questions, except I now think it can add plenty of value. It gives the Board an opportunity to take a step back and avoid classic issues such as group-think or over-optimism. It has also been a very effective way for me to learn from others. Today I actively encourage my team to go back to basics and interrogate our thinking. I am still yet to receive negative feedback for asking stupid questions!

Start with Why

The last few years haven’t been a walk in the park for charities. The uncertain political climate (to cite just one thing) has made it tough for the whole sector and we have had to ask ourselves difficult questions in some of our board meetings. Through thick and thin I’ve learnt a lot about risk management, which has helped me structure my own approach to risk and difficulties at work.

But what has stood out for me is watching our Board keep its focus on our “why” – a concept made popular by Simon Sinek back in 2009. In our case, it means that we have kept our focus on the impact we want to have, the people we want to help, and the social changes we want to foster. Thanks to our shared sense of ‘why’, we work as a super-motivated, cohesive team to work out the ‘how’ without shying away from our ambition. In my view it’s this attitude that has kept us so successful as an organisation; delivering our mentoring programmes across the UK and landing volunteering projects with the likes of Google, The Telegraph, CEB and EE.

It’s about building the next generation of trustees

I could go on and on. Reporting directly to TimeBank’s beloved CEO Helen and playing a part in TimeBank’s many achievements have also hugely contributed to building my own personal resilience and confidence, which have boosted my career progression in the last few years.

Nearly two and a half years after my first board meeting, I still think I’m getting more out of the experience than I bring. Our trustees and CEO are mentors and role models to me. And that’s where perhaps TimeBank shines the most for me: as an organisation with a long-term vision for a more supportive social fabric, my presence on the board is no admin mistake, but rather TimeBank’s investment in the next generation – allowing me to learn and grow under its wing so that one day, I may become an experienced trustee with plenty to give back to the charity sector.

If you’ve been inspired to become a charity trustee, why not think about joining our Board? We have a vacancy for a trustee who is as passionate as Raphaëlle about our work and our ambitions: http://www.timebank.org.uk/about/vacancy/join-us-as-a-timebank-trustee

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