By Ettie Bailey-King, Marketing Director, Getting on Board.
If you’re a communications, marketing or PR professional, you’re surrounded by people with skills like yours. Your world is full of brilliant writers, creative thinkers and savvy strategists.
As the old joke goes: two fish are swimming by when they meet an older fish who nods at them and says, “morning, how’s the water?” The two young fish swim past, then stop. One says to the other, “What the hell is water?”
Communications is the water that you swim in every day. It’s not until you step outside your area of expertise that you realise just how valuable your knowledge is. For charities all over the UK, your communications skills could be transformative.
There’s a charity that’s right for you
There’s an extraordinary variety of charities in the UK – almost 400,000 – and they range from huge organisations like Cancer Research UK and Oxfam down to village playgroups, ramblers associations, and local scout troops. Whatever cause you’re passionate about, whatever your local area, there’s a charity that’s right for you.
Four reasons to put your communications skills to work in a charity
1 Boost the charity or cause your love:
“Charity boards really benefit from having a trustee with marketing or communications experience” says David Petrie, a trustee for Aftermath Support. “When making decisions it’s important to consider what the PR implications might be. And from my own experience my fellow trustees, especially those from a legal or financial background, often struggle to understand the importance of Plain English!”
“As a trustee, I’ve been able to set a direction for the charity for growth beyond just better communication” says Reena O’Neill, a trustee at Maths On Toast. “Our finances are stronger, our team is bigger, our outputs are more sustainable. This means we can help more families.”
“As a comms professional, I can help with shaping our key messages, contributing to the comms strategy or even crisis comms if needed” says Kirsty Marrins, trustee at CharityComms.
2 Gain new skills:
The benefits aren’t just to the charity, you’ll learn new skills, techniques and approaches. “On a professional level [being a trustee] has led to me having a much greater understanding of management issues such as HR and legal affairs” says David.
For Reena, becoming a trustee enhanced her own ways of working, too. “As Trustee, you are ultimately responsible for the wellbeing of the charity’s success and the staff that work there. This has helped me professionally to understand more about all aspects of running an organisation like HR and Finance. This has increased my confidence which has helped me grow my own business.”
“I was asked to join the board specifically for my communications expertise” says Peta Sweetie. She’s gained new perspectives on her career and attitudes since becoming a trustee at InHive. She says, “It’s been a great opportunity to review and refresh my thinking.”
3 Build your network:
“It’s great to have built friendships with a diverse board and team, some of whom I probably wouldn’t have known otherwise as the charity works in an area where I have no professional expertise – network building for social change” says Peta. “I’ve really enjoyed getting to see their skills and expertise in action. It’s been a great way of building a personal and professional network which is really supportive on a personal and professional level, and also fun.”
“On a social level [being a trustee] has brought me into contact with a wide variety of interesting and inspiring people” says David.
4 Feel great while giving back:
“I love my work as a Trustee” says Reena, “Even if it does take up quite a bit of time. I love the opportunity to use all my experiences and skills in lots of different situations that I might not have the chance to otherwise. I love being part of the strategic team. I love using more than just my marketing skills.”
Transforming a charity that you love with the skills that you’ve worked to develop can be incredibly satisfying. As Tom, a former trustee at his local academy, says: “Seeing the correlation between all the time and effort I put in – and the results that follow – is so rewarding.”
Why charities need your communications skills
Every charity is different. A community group run by neighbours who love their local area, a trust set up by scientists who are passionate about biomedical research, or a support centre for single parent families – they’re all full of committed, capable people. But they often don’t include anyone with your communications knowledge.
Social media savvy? Too many charities just don’t have the resources or experience to take advantage of these important channels, without help from people like you. Know your way around a website? Many small charities in the UK don’t even have one. They’re missing out on crucial marketing opportunities, donation, information-sharing and more. Perhaps you’re a PR guru? All kinds of charities could benefit from your insights.
What does becoming a charity trustee involve?
Being a trustee is a legal duty. So it’s something to take seriously. The trustees have the power to hire and fire the CEO. They have to report to the Charity Commission. . A charity simply cannot do its work if the right people aren’t connected to it. People with the skills to make those connections are invaluable.
The time commitment varies widely. In many cases, trusteeship can be less than an hour a week. On the other hand, if you’re the chair of a big organisation, it could get close to being a full time job.
Trusteeship is open to everybody. In the past, there was a perception that being a charity trustee was for old white men. These days, charities are keen to recruit a younger, more diverse mix of trustees, and are putting far more emphasis on personal approach and professional skills. There’s plenty of room for all sorts, whether it’s senior individuals who’ve had a successful career and want to put something back, or younger people building a career who bring a fresh perspective.
“Being a trustee is not just for middle aged lawyers” says David Petrie. “Charities need boards which reflect the communities they serve.”