Trust me, I’m a trustee…

The CIPR benevolent fund, iprovision, has started the recruitment process for a number of new trustees – as four of them finish their term at the end of this year.

Here, outgoing trustee and former vice-chair Annette Spencer looks back on her time with the charity and what it has meant to her personally as well as some of the beneficiaries it has helped.  Annette is a Fellow of the CIPR, a Chartered PR Practitioner and currently works as director of public affairs and research at the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries.

At the end of this year I will be standing down after four years as a trustee of iprovision – the benevolent fund set up over 50 years ago with the aim of helping past and present members of the CIPR who fall on hard times.  The charity’s remit covers both the prevention and the relief of poverty.

As I start to reflect on what we’ve achieved, and what I’ve learned, over the last four years, it seems a good time to share the reasons why I would encourage more people to consider becoming a trustee. There are almost countless reasons, but here I’m going to focus on just three.

1: It really does make a difference to the people you help.

It’s obvious really, but any charity and particularly one with the objectives of iprovision, makes a practical and emotional difference to its beneficiaries far beyond the financial value of the assistance provided. Many of the cases which have come across our decision table in the past four years stick in my mind.

Of course, the confidentiality of our beneficiaries must remain paramount. But the range of help we’ve given is broad and has a real impact, from some significant financial support for a terminally-ill CIPR member which enabled her husband and young sons to spend as much time with her as possible, to much more modest help with some boiler repairs which kept a beneficiary warm in the few weeks she was waiting to start a new job after a period of unemployment.

Many people seem surprised that, as well as financial help, sometimes the support we offer takes the form of career coaching and outplacement services; during my time as a trustee I’ve seen several practitioners helped back into work, or given the focus they needed to find a niche for their own enterprise, thanks to these services which iprovision can fund for appropriate beneficiaries. I’ve never been in doubt that we made an incalculable difference to every individual we’ve helped.

2: It’s a valuable development opportunity

I know it’s unseemly to imagine that charity trustees are motivated by anything but helping other people. But I am going to ‘call out’ the fact that for most trustees it’s also an excellent opportunity to learn and develop skills which are highly useful in the day job, too.

Working collectively in a committee structure, and reaching agreement and decisions with people you may not know well and with whom you may not always agree, is increasingly essential for modern (working) life.

Acting as the non-executive directors for a sizeable operation which needs to be sustainable also means the work of a trustee extends far beyond the giving (or refusing) of grants. For example, in the last four years I’ve been involved with raising iprovision’s profile and managing its reputation, selecting a new investment manager to ensure the charity’s funds grow in value, working out our strategic risks, and responding to the requirements of GDPR. At least some of those activities will be very familiar to all you non-trustees out there, too.

3: You will meet a fantastic range of PR peers and colleagues

When I became a trustee I could have predicted points 1 & 2 above. What I hadn’t anticipated was the wide range of new and interesting people I would get to meet as an ambassador for iprovision.

Aside from the other wonderful trustees – many of whom have also become good friends -–my role with iprovision has taken me to CIPR Excellence awards and various PRide events, as well as workshops and seminars (our Mental Health Awareness Week events are my personal favourites). I’ve met some fascinating and awesome people.

I’ve been privileged that some of them have shared tragic and inspiring (often at the same time) stories with me as part of understanding if iprovision could help them, or to thank me for the fact we had.

Many more have told me about friends or family members who have had tough times where “if they’d had an iprovision” it would have made a difference. And I’ve been lucky to see up-close the dedication of the hard-working CIPR team, our presidents past and present and dozens of CIPR volunteers as they raise funds and awareness for iprovision.

Along the way, I’ve picked up lots of PR tips and techniques, and enjoyed some robust debates on ethics and Facebook, registers for Parliamentary lobbying and, inevitably, Brexit. I have learned extraordinary things from extraordinary people. Just because I’m an iprovision trustee.

Don’t get me wrong. Like everything in life you have to put something in to get something out. The trustees meet formally four times a year for around half a day. In addition, trustees undertake to deliver some tasks and participate in occasional working parties or subcommittees between the formal meetings – the work for this is often done by telecon or email – and to represent the charity at the kind of events I described above.

It is a commitment of time, thought and energy, but I hope I’ve indicated you get back far more than you invest. So, if you have a bit of spare time and like the idea of helping those in need, developing your own skills and building an amazing network in our profession, you should consider being an iprovision trustee.

After all, someone’s gonna have to replace me…

Recruitment of new trustees is being led by iprovision vice-chair Tony Bradley, and applications from anyone with experience in law, finance, social work/ benefits would be particularly welcomed.  For more information go to:  www.cipr.co.uk/iprovision or contact:  tonyb@iprovision.org.uk.

Picture shows Annette Spencer, left, with iprovision chair Pat Gaudin

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