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Meet Leonora Rae

Megan Raybould

15 July 2020

Leonora Rae is a Young Trustees Movement Champion and a Trustee for St Andrew’s Society and Bridging Arts. In this blog, Leonora shares her experience of being a trustee, what the opportunity has meant for her and her advice for new trustees.

Experience of a Young Trustee

I feel very fortunate, as a 26 year old, to be involved in two wonderful UK charities, in my role as Trustee of the St Andrew’s Society, a grant-giving charity helping disadvantaged women all over the UK, and as a Trustee and Director of Bridging Arts, a projects based charity using art and art related activities to address key social issues. I am also a proud Champion of the Young Trustees Movement, seeking to boost the disappointing statistic that fewer than 3% of trustees are under 30.

Why Did I Join a Board?

When peers ask me why I wanted to join a board, I find it somewhat difficult to answer – because, while being a trustee is an incredibly important part of my life and highly relevant given I now work with charities at EdenTree Investment Management, I didn’t actually know that I wanted to become a trustee, or what it entailed, when I joined the board of the St Andrew’s Society back in 2017.

For context, I was 23 years old, working as an intern within a corporate art collection. I didn’t necessarily know the route I’d take or what I wanted to do next, but as most 23 year olds do unashamedly well, was very much living in the present. However, it was a conversation with, someone with a little more life experience than I had, that changed my perspective. My grandmother told me one day that she sat on the board of a charity that helps disadvantaged women with regular and, or, one-off grants. I hadn’t known this before, or rather as grandchildren often do, hadn’t asked. For someone like her, who has been fortunate throughout her life to afford things like heating, water bills and warm clothing, she felt it important to support those who could not. These are the types of grants that the St Andrew’s Society support and, from hearing the notes of thanks in the board meetings, they really do make a difference. She also told me that she felt the board could benefit from younger voices who could challenge the processes, add greater efficiency and find solutions to problems that had not yet been solved. And so, soon after this conversation took place, I was compelled to join the board not only out of duty to her, but also to the women she had mentioned. In many ways, through her words of encouragement, my grandmother, back in 2017, was championing the messages of the Young Trustees Movement today.

My experience on the board of the St Andrew’s Society was such a positive one that it actually encouraged me to make a conscious career change. Having worked in the art world for almost a year, I decided that, with my developing interest in charity governance and endowment management, I would pursue a career in charity business development in the investment management industry, where I had, and still have, the opportunity to engage with charities and trustees on a daily basis. Looking back now, accepting that voluntary trustee role was a huge turning point for me, both personally and professionally.

My second trustee role, at Bridging Arts, is a more recent appointment. This time, I very deliberately applied for the position, and went through the formal application process of sending off a CV and cover letter and undergoing interviews with members of the board. When I was looking for this second role, I was very clear in my mind that I wanted to be involved in an arts charity, given my experience in the sector and belief that art can be a very powerful tool for communication. I also wanted to ensure that the arts remained a key part of my life when my career had changed so considerably. I saw the role advertised on Women on Boards, a great network which encourages women to become leaders.

What Do I Wish I’d Known?

So what might have helped me to be effective more quickly, in my role as a trustee? I think given I knew very little of the responsibilities and liabilities of a trustee when I joined the St Andrew’s Society, some training or literature would have been incredibly helpful. Trustee training is now, ironically, part of my current job, and I do my best to attend as many external training sessions as I can to be kept abreast of the ever changing regulations and requirements of a charity trustee. This is equally appreciated by my fellow board members, as I am able to report back my findings in the quarterly meetings. Unfortunately, in my early 20s I neither knew such trainings existed, nor did I feel they would be open to young people. However, the Young Trustees Movement are trying to change that. Not only are they helping new trustees with training and information sharing, but they’re also removing the stigma and perceptions around young trustees as inexperienced voices with little to add. There are a number of case studies that suggest this is not the case and I hope that I am one of them.

What Hurdles Did I Face?

This leads me nicely onto the biggest hurdle I faced when joining a board, and that was my mind-set. I didn’t feel worthy or experienced enough to comment in the meetings on the subjects being raised, and I was also very conscious of how I had obtained this position. It wasn’t until topics such as social media, and later charity finance, were discussed that I felt I could offer something valuable. Speaking up for the first time in that one meeting did not go unnoticed. I was thanked afterwards for my contribution, and it encouraged me to speak up whenever I felt I had something to add from then on.

Feeling like you deserve to have a seat at the table is something that can take years and years to achieve through a career. Through a trustee role, this can be achieved a lot more quickly, and can then translate very positively back into your career. However, it’s also important to remember that being a trustee is a two-way thing. Charities need the opinions and voices of their trustees if they are to improve processes, allocate funding efficiently and be the best charity they can be. I would encourage anyone that is looking to join a board, regardless of age, to find a charity with a purpose that means something to you personally, or that sits in a field or sector that really interests you. That way, you can ensure that your contribution is a strong one. Equally, I would encourage organisations to actively search for and recruit young trustees, as they can bring a lot more to the table than you might think.

At the time of writing – July 2020 – the St Andrew’s Society are looking to recruit a new Trustee. Please contact me for more information if you are interested in finding out more:

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