|29 Jan 2020|
|Board Member Profiles|
What initially prompted you to become a Charity Trustee? And what have your experiences been?
My family have always been involved in charities in some way, volunteering, fundraising etc. I got involved informally with a charity committee for Nurture Africa about 15 years ago and started to enjoy it more than my day job! I then joined the board of Fundraising Ireland, now Charities Institute Ireland. Having worked in some of the larger fundraising charities, who depend so much on the public, I believe strongly in the need for a voice for large charities, and for a support organisation to really foster greater professionalism, ambition, and effectiveness within the sector for the greater good of communities.
Being a part of the Charities Institute Ireland journey has been very rewarding – it is so positive to see a greater space for informed discussion take place in media outlets, seeing a huge number of people in the sector develop their skills, knowledge and professionalism through critical thinking on certs and diplomas, and really working on developing the network of forums that allow time to forge synergies, share vital learning and solve problems together. That's the Cii community. I am fortunate enough to work with an incredible group of diverse Trustees from within and outside the sector, and who are committed to ensuring we meet the needs of our members and continue to help them advance the impact they make.
Why, in your view, is the role of Charity Trustee so important?
I believe charities need actively engaged boards who have the benefit of non-executive roles to step back, set the overall direction of travel, ask some questions, challenge effectiveness and support the executive teams to make the best decisions to make the greatest impact they can. Often when we are working day to day in our roles, we are trying so hard to deliver a work plan, hit targets, secure sustainable funding, keep teams motivated etc, that we can move from project to project, issue to challenge. The role of the charity trustee is crucial because it is about thinking beyond the 12 month plan, and looking around corners, considering risk, future planning in a way that can often be restricted to schedule trustee think time, strategy days and charity trustee meetings. It can be a lot of responsibility, but also hugely rewarding.
You have spent time in both the private sector and the charity sector. What are the biggest differences you have seen between the two?
I have worked across many sectors both in charity and private contexts and I really enjoy both. The biggest difference I noticed upon first joining the charity sector in 2009 was that on the one hand there is this absolute pressure in charity. Because as a fundraiser or leader, you need the money to come in or else it affects people – and you see it. If you don't raise enough money, it means something significant to a community, a recovery plan, aid, a service, how many you can help. On the other hand, it has so much meaning. I genuinely love seeing the positives, hearing the stories of changed lives, seeing the benefit of providing education, watching as housing comes on stream to change people’s lives, hearing about progressive research for children with chronic illness. You are on the front line, and your daily slog has purpose and meaning.
There is a difference in investment though, and that in turn means that efforts can be manual, challenging, small. Campaigns can be short-lived. Retention is a struggle. It is difficult knowing that we as a society think it is ok for companies to spend money building brands or doing campaigns just for fun, but yet people find it so very hard to fathom the very idea that a charity might need to tell stories, be seen, reach out in order to raise funding to protect children, or animals. In this way and many other ways, we have irrational views of charities versus private sector. I would have had very different views before I joined and realised how essential good management was to being effective.
What are the biggest challenges facing the sector in the years ahead?
For me the biggest challenge in this labour market is attracting, developing and retaining excellent staff. When many people in the public are so vocally negative to charities, and not always understanding the value that charities provide, we have a job on our hands to change these perceptions, and to convince people to stay committed to their roles in the sector. These non profit employees are necessary, from services, advocacy, to fundraising and finance, people in the sector are a critical part of our societal fabric, and at Cii we are committed to ensuring this perception shifts, and that we all decide on the type of society we want.
I also believe we need long hard discussions with ourselves at board and executive levels about whether we are properly utilising funds to make the maximum impact.
Both your current role and position of chair must keep you quite busy, what are your interests outside of this that help you to relax?
I love being busy. I am really terrible at relaxing for too long. I get bored or stiff and grumpy. I love floating around the lazy river chasing my children in the local pool or having lazy days watching Netflix. I have regular girly nights with my extended college friends, with belly laughs galore, and I am a big fan of reading each night to unwind. I love running The Lunchtime Circle, a voluntary network and initiative that offers think tanks and mentoring over lunch. Also nothing like a bit of retail therapy to unwind!