Being a Trustee at Off the Record - Tessa Hibbert

Reflections on the March 2019 Board meeting

Studies of governance tend to focus on process and procedure. There is plenty of advice about what our roles and responsibilities should be. And, quite rightly, the way in which trustee boards make their decisions has become the subject of informed debate.

But this month I was more inspired by the thoughts of writer and charity leader, Julia Unwin, who in my view rightly points out that by focusing on process we often forget to ask the crucial questions at the heart of governance.

What sort of board are we?

Are we behaving in the right way at the right time?

What mode are we operating in?

I have been a trustee at Off the Record for the last 6 months; during which time I have seen the board use a number of ‘modes’. A small, diverse and committed group of volunteers, we have harnessed our talents and expertise to both support the leadership of the organisation, and challenge them to evolve it in the course of our mission.

Unwin identifies 5 core ‘S’s’ of charity governance. I decided to see if I could spot them during our most recent Board meeting, held in March 2019.

1.      Support. there are times when the role of the Board is to throw its support behind the charity. One of our newest trustees Rachel Feilden was running the Bath Half Marathon in support of our work (just one of the many ways in which we as trustees try to support the fundraising efforts of the charity). We discussed how we were going to support the charity’s fundraising team on the day of this important local event and cheer on our hardy team of runners!


2.      Stretch. Also on the agenda was a review of our new website and communications. We complimented the team on their work leading the website revamp, and we also asked the leadership team to think more about how we can use the site to improve our transparency and communication about our organisation. Our Chair asked them: how can we maximise its potential as a fundraising tool?


3.      Stewardship. The Finance Committee had already met to review the year end financial projections for 2018-19. As a small charity we can only work 12 to 18 months ahead and we tread a very fine line between securing ourselves against shocks in the future, and maximising our resources in pursuit of our mission. In my view, impartial trustees are the best placed to tread this line with delicacy.


4.      Scrutiny. Trustees have circulated a survey to all staff, to ensure we listen and respond to all our stakeholders. The deadline for return was imminent so we asked the leadership team for an update with timing and discussed how we are going to feedback to staff what we have heard.


5.      Strategy. We have an essential role in  determining not what the charity will do this week, but next year and in all the years to come. At our last meeting we were delighted to hear about a new pilot we are involved in with the University of Bath to provide counselling support to some of their students; we discussed the importance of this piece of work and our relationship with the University in the future.

The fact that we ranged across all these important roles during one short meeting, shows how diverse and wide ranging being a trustee can be – and how important it is. I really benefit from being part of this amazing organisation, and look forward to continuing to play a role on the Board at Off the Record.

You can find out more about Tessa and out Trustee’s here