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Meet Ellie Harding

Megan Raybould

17 June 2020

Ellie has been a trustee since they were 25, for Quakers in Britain, and has been volunteering for years. They also volunteer for Nightline. We chatted with Ellie about their experiences and asked them to share their top tips for being a trustee.

When did your journey with charities really begin?

I've been on the board of Quakers in Britain for about 18 months now, but I've been volunteering in various descriptions since school and  in a variety of charities since I began volunteering at the age of 13.

It was my experiences from the voluntary sector which naturally informed where I applied for jobs in my first year of university.

Did anyone inspire you or lead the way for the path that you're on today?

I don't think it was a person,  but perhaps more of an ethos. I was acutely aware of how fortunate I was and I went to a school that really encouraged students to volunteer and gain experience that way. I also grew up in a home where both my parents volunteered - it was normal to me to give your time in some capacity.

While you’ve been on boards how have you defined success?

I think it depends on the role I'm in. There have been some positions that I've had where I've known going in that I wanted to create quite significant change. I'm not afraid of change and I quite like being part of creating it - so long as it's effective.

I've also always had clear end points where I feel able to leave, and to pass on the reins to enable further success.

What would you say has been an important personal skill that you've developed on your young trustee journey so far?

My ability to network. This is the thing I'm most grateful that I can do, without having to think too much. It has created so many opportunities for me without even having them planned out.

It isn’t something I think I’d have been able to do ten years ago, but as I’ve been put in more and more situations, I’ve had to learn how to be able to walk into a room and just ask “Hey, tell me more about you?”

I’ve always been interested in governance, particularly from an engagement level perspective, and I’ve enjoyed platforming this in both my board experience and at Nightline.

Learning that I’m someone who is happy to lead from the back, has been useful, because it's meant that I can thrive on other people's successes, as a person who has supported and helped enable these achievements.

How has leading from the back transferred itself into your boardroom experience?

I'm not a natural leader; this is definitely a skill I am still developing. I believe I am perceptive, and able to read rooms quite quickly, which can then enable me to work out effective strategies to gather people around a shared goal.  I therefore regularly find myself asking, "does everyone feel engaged?" and, "have we pulled in all the expertise that we can possibly pull in here?” which I think is a different type of leadership.

I also think it’s important to be as inclusive as possible. As I can combine my background in welfare and strength in leading from the back, I often find myself offering a pastoral role.

What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about young trusteeship?

I think it's the gap between diversity and inclusion. You can have diversity, but without inclusion it's not meaningful.

I think a common misconception with young trustees is when you see charities celebrating that they want young trustees. They then put a new young trustee on the board, and everything goes well, until it doesn’t. At which point, the young trustee’s limitations are attributed to their age. For example, if somebody needs help understanding something about  finance - the assumption is that they don’t understand because they are young, rather than simply being that they need financial training, which is common for lots of trustees.

I am certain this isn’t a conscious process, which is why it's a difficult thing to challenge. I believe it is really important for the young trustees movement to address  this.

When you joined the board, did you feel like there was a period where you had to develop your own voice and become more confident to speak out at board meetings?

Yes and no.

For me, the biggest challenge was a sense of, "we don't want to overburden you." that I received from the wider board. However, it was through additional opportunities  that I found my voice first.

Sub-groups are made up of a smaller group of trustees  who meet for a specific purpose, e.g. property. These additional meetings helped me get my head around the details of the organisation in a way that general trustee meetings hadn’t. Once I'd got on to sub-groups, my confidence in the main boardroom increased.

I was lucky that I walked into a board where they proactively wanted young people so I wasn't fighting to get into a space. The board set themselves a recruitment target, and I was one of the first of two people to be appointed. The existing board was willing to teach me things, but also go to the pub afterwards; I felt very welcomed.

Finally, what has been the greatest reward from volunteering and being a trustee?

Ten out of ten: friendships.

There is such a sense of: "we are all in this together."

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