Many voices, working together with purpose
Halena Gauntlett is chair of the OPFS Board. For Trustees’ Week 2023, she speaks about what this entails.
In this short blog, I give you a little insight into why I choose to be a Board member, what the role of the Board is, the types of the work I am involved in and examples of the skills that make an effective board member.
- Halena Gauntlett, Chair of OPFS Board
Halena Gauntlett is Chair of the OPFS Board and is a single parent herself.
What are trustees?
Charity trustees / board members are the volunteers who lead charities and decide how they are run. Trustees oversee everything a charity does, from setting its strategy to being responsible for its work and finances. They are volunteers with big responsibilities. It is a highly respected role, and being a trustee is a great way of contributing to causes you care about, offering a rewarding way to make a difference and develop strategic and leadership skills at the same time.
Benefits of being a trustee
Getting involved as a trustee is a great way to put your professional skills or lived experience to use, but can also be a fantastic opportunity to learn new things. You’ll get great insight into what’s involved in the management of charities and gain skills on working well within a leadership role. It makes a valuable addition to your CV, and can provide opportunities to demonstrate skills that compliment, or build upon, experience in other areas of your life.
A little bit about me
I have been Chair of One Parent Families Scotland (OPFS) for three and a half years. I feel extremely privileged to work with our families, the Chief Executive, the OPFS staff team, our Board of Trustees and partners. I am inspired by OPFS as the only national organisation representing single parent families, their influential work at policy level and vital hands on work with families across Scotland. I was interviewed to join OPFS after I responded to an advert by OPFS recruiting Board members. This process is important for both the charity and the volunteer to find the right fit.
I have always volunteered in some capacity. I give my time to causes I care about. In return it makes my world bigger and creates opportunity to meet many diverse and brilliant people, to connect with them meaningfully through a shared purpose, each with stories and experiences beyond my own. I choose to support charities centred on cultivating relationships, community, tackling poverty and striving for equity of opportunity, amplifying voice and representation through evidence-based influence and I currently work with three charities, each doing this in very distinct and unique ways.
What is involved in being a trustee?
I think it can help to think about your role in terms of being curious, asking questions, and exploring different viewpoints through candid and respectful conversations. Boards often have lively discussion and sometimes tense debates. You must be ready to take on tough, often emotive issues and guide the board to do the right thing. The Chair provides leadership to the Board and is ultimately responsible for ensuring a structured and productive debate to support the charity’s long-term interests. All trustees are equally responsible for the governance of the Charity. As a trustee / board member, you’re there to listen, challenge, advise and encourage. It is important to have the right motivation and a genuine and active interest in the charity and its purpose, where you consider what skills and attributes you can contribute. The main focus for the Board is long-term strategic thinking rather than being involved in the operational day-to-day activity, which is the responsibility of the Chief Executive or Director of the charity. As Chair and first point of contact, I work closely with our Chief Executive and Senior Leadership Team and liaise with the Board.
Opportunities as a trustee
I really appreciate the opportunities to build relationships with others – trustees, volunteers, staff members and public users of the services the charity provides. There are all sorts of ways that we get involved. There are a minimum number of regular structured meetings, but there may be away days, launches and formal or social networking events, open days and workshops. You may be asked to contribute to consultation or research, joining sub-groups, smaller working groups with a start and finish task to report into the main board. As a representative of the charity there may be media interviews, meetings with senior leaders or members of parliament, engagement with funders as you actively play a role in promoting the charity and its purpose. Mostly you role up your sleeves, but there are other times you can dress to impress!