by Rory Mair CBE, Chair of CAS.
This column was first published in the Herald on 3 November 2021.
This is Trustee’s Week. SCVO’s annual effort to raise awareness of the vital role that is played by the people who sit on the Boards of Scotland’s charities.
And I do mean vital. Because without trustees, charities wouldn’t exist. Every charity you know is only there because there’s a group of men and women who give up their time and energy to make the decisions that enable that charity to function.
Being a trustee is not a paid role. Businesses have directors – who can all expect to take a hefty annual dividend. Charities have trustees – who can’t. But other than that, it’s essentially the same job. The fancy word is ‘governance’. In practice it means making the big decisions to ensure the organisation remains solvent and does the work it’s supposed to.
You’ll have worked out by now what I’m building up to. One of the aims of Trustee’s Week is to try and persuade more people to come forward and volunteer to be a trustee. That means you. Seriously, have you ever thought about it?
As chair of Citizens Advice Scotland you’ll understand that I’m going to concentrate in particular on the 59 Citizens Advice Bureaux in Scotland, each of which is an independent local charity with its own board of trustees, each of which is always looking for new members. All organisations occasionally need new blood, new ideas, new perspectives. Could you provide that for your local CAB?
So, you’re thinking, what does a trustee do? Well, you sit on the board, which meets at least four times a year (more likely bi-monthly) and makes decisions about the running of the CAB.
The average CAB Board will have people from all sorts of professions, some at management level, but by no means all. Some are retired, some not. All ages and backgrounds are welcome. Indeed, the bottom line is that anyone can be a CAB trustee, and the broader the range of people the better.
In terms of process, all board members are elected at the charity’s AGM, but individual members can also be co-opted at any time of the year, so really the thing to do is just contact your local CAB (there’s a postcode search tool here) and tell them you’d like to apply to join their board.
I don’t want to imply it’s an easy ride. It isn’t. You need to read all the board papers before each meeting, etc. But more than that, you’ll need to take some tough decisions at times. Funding for CABs is always a pressure. Boards sometimes have to decide between letting some staff go or shutting down some services. Nobody gets involved in a charity to do that, but as a trustee you’re the last line of responsibility.
There again, it’s that very responsibility that motivates some people. After all, for the charity to work, somebody has to take those tough decisions – and ditto the boring but essential work of scrutinizing those financial papers. But the reward is when you see the charity grow and help more people. That’s what makes it all worthwhile.
In terms of work commitment, research has found that being a CAB trustee takes up about 9 hours per month. That’s obviously a ball-park estimate but it gives you an idea. You’ll gain great experience, skills and contacts – all good for the CV. But the main benefit you’ll get is that sense of fulfilment. And the sense of being part of a network that is really quite remarkable.
Later this month Airdrie CAB will celebrate its 50th anniversary. I find that quite extraordinary, that a local charity can survive that long in basically the same form as it was set up. Just think about how many lives it has changed in that time.
And it’s not alone: Both East Renfrewshire CAB and West Dumbartonshire CAB also celebrated their 50th birthdays in the last few weeks, and North West Aberdeenshire CAB celebrated its 10th. The CABs in Glasgow, Aberdeen and Stirling have existed from the very beginning of the CAB service in 1939.
As you can probably tell, I’m very proud of our network. I mean, all charities are fantastic, but there are some that hold a special place in people’s hearts, and I think the CAB is one of them. Everyone recognises our circular blue and gold logo, and we are the only organisation that offers advice on so many different issues across the whole of the country, and in so many different formats.
With the end of furlough, the Universal Credit reduction and the recent rise in fuel bills, a lot of people are in financial crisis right now. That means our CABs will all be working at full pelt. They need careful, active management more than ever.
So, how about it? Are you at a time in your life when you could give some support to our network, and to your local community? If you are – or if you think you might be – contact your local CAB and ask how to go about joining their Board as a new trustee.