#ALIGN and the nine other important things you would want to know as trustee of a charity

From an exchange on the Guardian Voluntary Sector Network

What are the ten most important things you would want to know as trustee of a charity?

Here’s my response:

It depends on whether I was considering stepping up or already a trustee of an organisation.

So I’ve taken the liberty of splitting the ten into two fives – one for prospects, one for incumbents – I hope it is useful:

// If I was a prospective/new trustee I’d want to:

ONE. Make sure the organisation aligns with my values and skills – I’m giving my time – so I’d want to make sure my heart is truly in it and that I’d be able to contribute competently.

TWO. Next I’d want to understand the governance process – I’d read the Charity Commission’s pages on becoming a trustee: http://bit.ly/CCbecomingatrustee

THREE. I’d then dive into more about the organisation – especially the finances – and check if the organisation is otherwise in good standing. I would want to check the latest accounts by searching on http://www.charitycommission.gov.uk/ + http://www.guidestar.org.uk/ etc. and also do a general Google/Bing/whatever search for any other possible red flags.

FOUR. Next I’d want to understand the strategy – is it clear? Would you be able to explain it to somebody’s grandmother? If yes, then I’d look at how it is delivered. This means I’d have to get to grips with the business model and the key performance indicators that underpin delivery… complex stuff, but necessary for good stewardship.

FIVE. Last but not least, I’d want to be crystal clear about my role in all of the above and be clear about where I can contribute the most – so don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions – it’ll help you align your efforts.
// As an incumbent trustees looking to make a difference

SIX. I keep referring back to How to be a good trustee: http://www.cfefficiency.org.uk/trustee-guide

SEVEN. Within that, I want to make sure the organisation has a solid strategy and matching business model – and is fully compliant with all regulatory requirements (it is on my head after all) – if not, I’d work my colleagues to address the issues in order to create an efficient and well-aligned organisation that creates real impact (I do this for a living). If you don’t already have an impact framework, then you may want to look at the ‘Practical Approach’: http://www.cfefficiency.org.uk/practical-approach

EIGHT. Next I’d want to continually hone my ability to ask good questions – and hold people accountable – by seeking feedback… and I insist on a regular performance review from my chair (and if I am the chair, 360 feedback on my performance from both staff and board).

NINE. To keep perspective, look to learn more about shared opportunities and challenges in the sector by seeking out and sharing knowledge with relevant peers: http://www.ncvo.org.uk/ http://www.associationofchairs.org.uk/ http://www.honorarytreasurers.org.uk/ etc. etc.

TEN. Last but not least, I want to know how to do my bit on how to help others step up – by for example supporting Trustees Week etc.

There’s a starter for ten.

What’s missing? Join the conversation on the Guardian Voluntary Sector Network.

Michael Ambjorn is founder of // Align Your Org – you can follow him @michaelambjorn for a dose of all of the above. You can also join the conversation:#ALIGN.