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blog • Story


Hadel Mirza

18 March 2021

Louis is a charity communications professional from South London. He is a trustee at The Goldsmiths Community Association, a small charity that works bases in Lewisham, South London. We asked Louis about his experience as a trustee of a local organisation and how being a trustee has impacted his career.

Louis is not only a trustee at The Goldsmiths Community Association but works as a Senior Communications Officer at Pause, a national charity that works with women who have experienced the removal of children from their care. He believes third sector communications are best when they have the voices of the people affected by societal issues at their heart.

We were delighted to have the opportunity to chat to Louis about his experiences!

How did you get involved with Goldsmith Community Association? Why is what they do so important, what impact does it have?

I got involved with the Goldsmiths Community Association (GCA) last year, after helping to set up and support a local Mutual Aid Group and crowdfunding of a food bank in the wake of COVID-19. This experience revealed the stark inequalities in our communities as well as the vital support small community organisations provide. I wanted to do more to support my community. So, being able to add value, bringing charity comms experience to support a small organisation working in Lewisham was a no-brainer.

GCA, is a fantastic community organisation working mainly in the south of the borough. A small group of dedicated staff and volunteers work creatively and tirelessly to support building a healthy, connected and thriving community. What they manage to achieve continually amazes me, especially in the last six months - helping people to stay connected in lockdown, running groups virtually and getting the centre ready to support the national roll out of the COVID-19 vaccine.

What has been your greatest challenge in your role as a trustee?

Getting to grips with the role can be daunting. Charity governance, impenetrable spreadsheets of financial data, and understanding your legal responsibilities can be a challenge and never more so when you are taking on a trustee role for the first time online.

Language can be difficult, understanding it and procedures, especially when coupled with the sometimes-complex ways charities make decisions is an ongoing challenge. Navigating decision making can be daunting but don’t be afraid to jargon bust and ask the questions – ‘what does that mean?’, ‘can you please give me some context, ‘what does that acronym mean?’ – chances are you are not the only one thinking it.

What’s been your greatest reward so far in your trustee journey?

Helping in a small way, the brilliant people at GCA to support communities in Lewisham motivates me. I am proud to have helped the organisation to identify the need for a full-time Managing Director, working alongside other trustees and staff to create a role and successfully recruit for it has put the organisation in a stronger position after a difficult year for all small charities. There are lots of challenges ahead but we are so much better equipped to meet them as a result.

What’s the biggest misconception you think people have about young trusteeship?

I think there are misconceptions in and out of the (virtual) boardroom. The biggest one… you do not need decades of experience for your skills and experience to add value.

Your voice is important. For ‘young’ people, many of whom may struggle with the label as much as I do, I think it is important to listen and learn but also make interventions you believe to be right when you can. You have insight that other board members will not and speaking up brings fresh perspective, future proofing decision making and keeps boards relevant. Being ‘young’ is an asset not a hindrance – decision makers need to understand this.

Do you think board diversity is important for local charities?

Boards must represent the communities they support and serve. This is vital to ensure the voices of people affected by decision making are heard. The sector has a long way to go in terms of diversity and we need to name that. Boards need to do this explicitly, take steps to break down barriers, and enable meaningful participation for everyone. ‘Diversity’ as we know it is not enough, organisations must not just promote diversity but support systemic change through recruiting, retaining, and supporting people from all communities, making sure they feel a sense of belonging and are valued.

Has working at Pause charity helped you in your role as a trustee?

Pause is a great place to work and a supportive employer. We have a generous 6 days of volunteer leave a year, an amount of time that allows you to commit and engage with being a trustee, alongside a great flexible working policy this has allowed me this to support GCA with pieces of comms work and recruitment outside of regular board meetings. I also have a great line manager who has supported me in taking on a trustee role as part of my professional development. Working for an organisation that encourages your growth inside and outside of your role benefits not only the individual but helps grow skills for the sector as a whole.

Any tips for other people looking for trusteeships?

For information, the Young Trustee Movement is a great place to start. Keep an eye on organisations of all sizes that you admire and would like to support and think about how you can add value. What expertise can you offer? How could you compliment what a board might already have? Smaller organisations might not have the comms capacity to shout from the rooftops about opportunities so keep an eye on their websites and social media.

Volunteers form the backbone of community charities. As a trustee, you need to be responsible and accountable for the organisation but also acknowledge that you are a volunteer too. You want to give the best of yourself and to do that you need to look after yourself – set boundaries, be purposeful in your work and look out for your wellbeing and the wellbeing of those around you. Know what you are there to do and always be compassionate, kind and embrace laughter when you can.

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