What’s it like to be a trustee?

Author's position
Community Journalist
Article date
1 June 2016
Primary interest

Nelson Walters, currently Treasurer of Reading Mencap and No5 Youth Counselling and Information Service, speaks about his experience of being a treasurer and a new trustee.

After about a year of retirement, Nelson had realised that he missed the challenge of the business environment, when one day he saw an RVA desk in the library. He chatted to the people at the desk and they thought that there were local charities who might be interested in a retired chartered accountant.  Nelson said: “I was advised to look at the RVA website, where I would find a listing of opportunities, but I was also encouraged to make contact with Andy Robarts in the RVA office.”

Andy described the valuable work that RVA did and lamented that local charities often struggled to find new trustees. Andy told Nelson about the courses that RVA ran for new trustees and of the support that they were able to provide on a wide range of issues, such as reviewing the constitution, reviewing policies and employment issues.

“I have to say I did not know what to expect,” Nelson reflected, “but in no time at all I was called by the director of one local charity asking if I would like to come along and meet them.” A few days later he received another call with another offer to come and chat about how the charity operated and how they thought he might be able to help.  “I went from a position of not knowing whether there were trustee opportunities to being asked to take on the role of treasurer in two local charities within the space of 3 weeks!” he said.

Nelson thinks that it was the passionate way that the people in the charities talked so enthusiastically about their work and the visions that they had for serving the needs of the local community that made him decide that it was something that he wanted to do.

“It’s certainly a role that needs to be taken seriously,” he stressed. In his role of treasurer, Nelson feels that keeping control of the finances and bringing matters to the attention of the other trustees is crucial.  He also stressed the importance of trustees being committed and reliable. He advised: “New trustees need to be aware of what is expected of them right from the start. It is no use going in and not asking questions; prospective trustees need to be inquisitive. You can learn more about the charity as you get more involved, but don’t get involved if you are not prepared to attend meetings and take on tasks that you are asked to do on a timely basis. Do your homework before you get involved; as a minimum, ask for a copy of the latest accounts, the annual report and the business plan.”

For Nelson, the role of trustee is very much a win-win for him and the charities that he’s involved in.  He explained: “Becoming a trustee and treasurer provided me with an opportunity to play a significant role in the operations of two very busy charities. It has enabled me to use my business and accountancy experience for the benefit of others. I still feel that I have something to offer the local community and I really enjoy being involved in the day to day running of the charities. If you’re lucky enough to work with people you respect you’ll go that little bit further and it won’t be a chore.  A far better way to spend my time than doing Sudoku puzzles!”

For a list of current trustee (and other) vacancies in Reading’s exciting and varied charity sector, check out the RVA volunteering website. For more information on trusteeship you can also contract advice@rva.org.uk. If you would like to become a trustee you may also be interested in our Trustee Matching event on 09 June.