Challenging times, testing opportunities

It’s very strange times in the charity sector at the moment. Never before has there been such a call on charities to support the community and create Big Society. And certainly JVN has never been busier!  Yet never before has there been such a climate of economic uncertainty and belt-tightening.

And it was with the latter in mind that JVN put on an event to mark Trustees Week last week at the offices of our corporate sponsors HW Fisher & CompanyBeing a Not-for-Profit Trustee in financially challenging times: threat or opportunity?

It’s easy to forget that Trustees, who are legally liable for any charity, are volunteers. High-octane volunteers, mind, bringing their variety of professional skills to the table and – in some cases – overseeing organisations that have incomes in the hundreds of millions!

Albeit that our event was just little further down the income tree, we had an audience of twenty Trustees from small and medium-sized charities listen to presentations from Mike Redhouse, Chairman of the Board of Trustees at St Luke’s Hospice, Elissa Bayer, Director of Private Clients at Williams de Broë and Neal Gilmore, Not-for-Profit Expert and Principal from our hosts HW Fisher.

Leonie address the HW Fisher Trustee Week event

Some of it was sombre listening.

Neal brought an overview of the governance responsibilities of Trustees, some of which brought some avid scribbling in note books indeed. As a charity trustee myself, I’m happy confess that some of the financial and legal implications need to be regularly refreshed to ensure that everything is operating as well as it can!

Elissa Bayer address the room

Elissa lifted the lid on the complex world of finance and its implications for charities. On a day when the surprise Greek referendum announcement caused markets to plunge around the world, she explained that the world is fundamentally a more financially risky place; the concept of a ‘safe’ investment in a bank is no longer that, and charities as much as any individual must diversify their funds and – most importantly – be scrupulous in exactly understanding what it is they are investing in.  And, if it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is!

Mike Redhouse addresses the room

And lastly Mike spoke about how the new financial realities mean that Trustees must look at how charities might trim their outgoings, even though some of the options are difficult to consider.  He pointed out that the duty of a Trustee is not to a charity or its staff per se, rather the people they are trying to help in their aims.  And if this means that a charity should consider merging with another charity to help deliver the big picture, then the Trustees must consider this, particularly since management are less likely to consider it! If it means that a charity must cut budgets or even staff to deliver this, then Trustees must consider that too.

So far so serious. And the Q&As following the presentations reflected this.

But what also emerged was the appetite of the Trustees present to continue the conversation, to share the challenges and work together to share ideas about how they could deliver even better value to their charities and the Jewish charity sector in particular. Particularly in response to Mike’s comments about considering merger, consolidation and partnerships. Never before have I organised an event where, before it’s even ended, people are demanding the next one!  So while it’s certainly not going to be smooth sailing in the next few months, these volunteers are certainly in the position to ensure that some of the challenges will be taken as opportunities to do things better and so help.

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Categories: JVN Events, Leonie's View

Author:Mike

Hi, I'm Mike, JVN's Youth Co-ordinator and blogger. I'll be blogging about all sorts of issues affecting the volunteering community, with a particular focus on how recent developments might affect the UK Jewish community's volunteers. I'm always interested to read the comments you make. If you have something you want to see in the JVN blog, e-mail me at mike@jvn.org.uk and I'll be happy to talk. And if you're inspired by any of my blogs to volunteer, log on to www.jvn.org.uk and register to find your perfect volunteering opportunity.

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