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Trustee Stories

Read first hand accounts of what it's like being a charity trustee. If your charity has any trustee vacancies, or if you'd like to become a charity trustee, you can find out more at the Trustees' Week website.

Rhiannon McIntyre has been a trustee of the Mamie Martin Fund (MMF) since 2005, and became Treasurer of the charity shortly after. MMF was founded by Rhiannon's grandparents in 1993, in memory of her great-grandmother, the wife of a Scottish missionary in Malawi in the 1920's.

Rhiannon says:

'Mamie Martin was a teacher in Scotland, and passionate about helping to educate the girls she met in Malawi, who at that time were not able to go to school. Sadly, she died in Malawi when my grandmother was just 18 months old. Returning to Malawi in the early 1990's, my gran found that the situation for girls' education had not changed much since her mother had been alive. Cultural differences meant that boys were regarded as more important, and so many families gave priority to the education of their sons over their daughters. Since secondary education isn't free in Malawi, it's still common today for girls to drop out of school if their families cannot afford to pay their fees. The aim of MMF is that no girl who has secured a place at secondary school should have to give it up due to poverty. The fund works in partnership with the Synod of Livingstonia (CCAP) in the northern region of Malawi, to support the education of around 150 girls each year.

'I've been involved in MMF since it began, informally volunteering at fundraising events as a child, then performing at them as a music student. I decided to become more involved in the management of the fund by becoming a trustee once I'd graduated from university. Having studied performing arts rather than an academic subject, and at that time pursuing a career as a freelance musician, it was great to be able to use parts of my brain which had been lying dormant since I finished my own secondary education! I'd been good at maths when at school, and had almost chosen to study accountancy at university, but chose the creative path instead. When I first joined the committee I didn't know anything about charity finance, or indeed all that much about international development, but I can now confidently say that I do! Being treasurer of MMF has taught me a lot, but I have also brought a lot to the charity. I was 23 years old when I became a trustee, and with no disrespect to my fellow trustees, I brought the average age of the membership down considerably! What I lacked in knowledge about Malawi and how the world works, I made up for in enthusiasm, a fresh perspective and an understanding of computers and marketing.

'Since joining MMF, I have found the post of treasurer to be very rewarding. I was able to visit Malawi in 2009 in an official capacity, and I'm incredibly grateful for the opportunity as I not only visited the place where my grandmother was born and my great-grandmother is buried, but I also met many of the girls who are supported by the charity. Meeting these enthusiastic and vibrant young women reminded me why MMF is so important, and made all the hours I spend staring at spreadsheets and bank statements worthwhile. I had always thought that people who say visiting a developing country changes your life are a bit patronising, but its true - visiting Malawi did change my life. It changed my perception of what a developing country is like. It changed my attitude to work and made me wish I could go back to school and take my studies more seriously. And most importantly, it made me realise how vital the work that the Mamie Martin Fund does is to the women of Malawi, and made me determined to carry on the legacy of my great-grandmother by making sure that MMF is managed efficiently.

'For those considering becoming a trustee, I would wholeheartedly recommend it, and would say that you shouldn't worry about whether you're qualified enough, or whether you have enough life experience to make a difference. As long as you care about the cause and are willing to dedicate time and energy, then go for it! Being a trustee isn't always easy, but you'll learn a lot and you'll make a difference to at least one person's life, and probably a lot more than you'll ever realise.

Liz Duncan is a trustee of a new charity, For Carnoustie, a charity shop that works as a hub to the local community. Liz has previously been a trustee of several charities but particularly wanted to support this local initiative when she was made aware of it. Since joining the Board of Trustees, Liz has played a full part in generating funds that have been awarded to a range of local groups. These include the Carnoustie Scouts, to pay for grass sledges and a branded gazebo; and Carnoustie Befrienders, to help with transport costs and pay for a Christmas meal for the over-60. Money awarded also paid for new strips and equipment for the Carnoustie Football Academy, a defibrillator for 1st Responders and music therapy for children with special needs.

Liz says:

'I became a trustee of the charity as I knew the couple who set it up. Their dream was to help the community and they approached several local figures to discuss their idea and invite them to form the Board of Trustees for what became a new charity.

'The charity itself is a charity shop, with all the money it raises going back into the local community. We opened our doors on 14 January 2012 and on 25 October at our first presentation night; we awarded a total of £19,500 to local groups. There were gasps of disbelief at the event when we announced how much we were giving. That money will bring joy to so many faces and it's a wonderful feeling to know that you've been part of that.

'The charity shop has become the hub of Carnoustie, and is well supported because we keep prices low to help struggling families make ends meet. All the trustees work well together. We work hard, but every one of us is thrilled to be awarding such substantial sums to local groups. To anyone thinking about becoming a charity trustee, don't think about it - just do it! The rewards are many and you will be using your experience of your work or your life to the advantage of others.'

Susan Bruce is a trustee of Youthlink Dundee, a charity that has provided help and support to vulnerable and disadvantaged children in the city for 30 years. The charity has two projects. The 1-to-1 befriending service supports the needs of isolated and disadvantaged children on an individual basis, by providing fun activities and experiences with volunteer befrienders. The 'Kids Unlimited' group offers activities to children living in households where family members suffer from ill-health or disability; these children have often taken on the role of carer and thereby miss out on normal childhood experiences.

Susan says:

I have been a Trustee for the last three and a half years and became aware of the charity's need for Trustees through a circular sent round my workplace. I was lucky enough to have had a very secure home life and childhood, with plenty of support and encouragement from adults who took the time to get involved with all the clubs and groups that just couldn't run without volunteers. I've experienced similar levels of commitment in the activities my son is now involved in, but I know that not every child is so lucky. I felt that being a Trustee would be my chance to give something back and help support those children for whom a stable home life and childhood may not be the norm.

'I sit on the Board of Trustees, which normally consists of attending one meeting every two months. I help out with fundraising activities when I can, and also provide health and safety advice to the organisation, as required, in my free time. I can honestly say that I get far more back, in terms of knowing that I'm helping, than I put in. Volunteering needn't be onerous and even a small effort can make a big difference for a charity.'

Jim Milne joined the Brechin Youth Project in 2002, shortly after the charity opened The Attic, a youth drop-in centre in the heart of the local community. He became a trustee after taking early retirement from his job as engineering manager at a pharmaceutical company.

Jim says:

'I used my skills to organise contractors to carry out work on the centre, and then led a small team of volunteers to do all the other much needed jobs at little cost. My main reason for becoming involved was simply to put something back into the local community. Having just taken early retirement, I felt that I had time and skills to contribute, but from a personal perspective I also wanted new challenge.

'With the charity now in its tenth year, the greatest satisfaction for me is working with the young people as part of a team and contributing to their education and well being. A key aspect of my role is fundraising, which in itself is an even greater challenge, but again using the skills I gained in my previous role, this has been achieved with some success.

'Young people are much maligned in some quarters, but if people were to work with them on a day to day basis they would very quickly see a different picture. Young people are receptive to good advice, which sadly for many is not forthcoming at home. Over the years we've introduced many young people to volunteering, giving them a basic work ethic, with many of them using that experience at interviews leading to full-time employment.

'The advice I would give to anyone considering becoming a Trustee it would be that all the skills and knowledge you've picked up in your working and everyday life is valuable, but you may not realise this. A whole host of other people out there, who may not be as fortunate, would benefit from your time and effort. But perhaps the greatest benefactor would be yourself.'

Julia Romanes is a trustee of the Borders Animal Welfare Association (BAWA), a role she has held for the past seven years. BAWA runs an animal rescue service in the Scottish Borders, mainly for dogs, cats and small animals. Established over 35 years ago, the charity is run by volunteers. It provides individually tailored care for each of its animals, helping them resolve any behavioural or health problems and go on to have a happier life with a caring family. In the last six years, the charity has rehomed over 1,500 animals.

Julia says:

'At the time I joined BAWA, I was still working full time in the NHS. I wanted to become part of the local community and give something back. I've always loved dogs and cared about the welfare of animals, but with working full time I never got round to doing anything constructive about it. With BAWA I felt that a lot of the overhead costs were supported by volunteers from the local community, and the money was being focused at direct care for the animals, so I wanted to help that continue and develop.

'The charity is still run by a volunteer committee and is looking to the future. More and more cats and dogs in particular need our help, and it's so satisfying to find them new homes. We also help the local community by providing employment for five part time staff and work experience for many school children. We give voluntary employment experience for those looking to return to work after a long period of unemployment and hands-on experience and training for animal care students at a local college as well as undergraduate veterinary students. We also provide experience for those with various learning disabilities to help them find work in the future, and improve their present quality of life.

'For anyone thinking of becoming a Trustee, I would say find out as much as possible about the charity you're considering joining and the work they do, to make sure that it fits with how you wish to spend your voluntary time what you have to offer. Understand that even as a volunteer, you are making a commitment that you need to fulfil - so don't overstretch yourself at the beginning or you may later get fed up with it. And be there for the long term - to help the charity grow.'

Sandy Argo is a trustee of Mental Health Aberdeen (MHA), a role he has held since 2000 after joining the charity as a recently-retired company director. Since joining MHA, Sandy has focused on raising the charity's public profile through various initiatives, most recently a public Songs of Praise event to celebrate World Mental Health Week , held in Aberdeen's Union Terrace Gardens and attracting over 400 people.

Sandy says:

'I took on the role as I wasn't prepared to sit at home feeling sorry for myself in retirement! I was encouraged to become involved with MHA by one of the project managers -I was impressed at just how many volunteers were working in the charity's projects. To formulate a change in the general public's perception is a massive undertaking and requires more education, especially for our young people. Undoubtedly the area of mental ill-health is not so widely understood, nor do many people wish to contemplate it. It still carries enormous stigma in today's thinking, and this really must be reduced. We need to increase public education and campaigning in this area so that this vital part of daily living - mental well-being - is given much more consideration in our lives.

'In some ways I have always been involved with voluntary work, having been a volunteer organist and choirmaster at Middlefield Church, Aberdeen, for over 30 years. This was located in an area of Aberdeen where I witnessed much community deprivation and hardship. My advice to anyone contemplating becoming a volunteer or trustee of a charity is to seriously consider and embrace it. Realise the huge social reward there is all round, both to you as a trustee providing freely of your skills and to the public at large - especially those who need even more of our compassion and support.'

Jenny Lowe is a trustee of two Edinburgh charities - the Multi-Cultural Family Base (MCFB) and Home Start Leith and North East Edinburgh (HSLNEE). Aged 75, Jenny has been a trustee at MCFB for nine years and at HSLNEE for twelve. MCFB works to enhance the well being and life opportunities of vulnerable children and their families and of those from minority communities across the city. HSLNEE trains volunteers who are already parents, to support families with at least one child under the age of five years. Jenny carries out administrative tasks at HSLNEE and prepares funding applications at MCFB, as well as minute-taking, policy revision and legal research at both charities.

Jenny says:

'My involvement started after retirement, when I was looking for something useful to do. The fact that I am a trustee at both these organisations is due in no small part to the fact that they evolved from the same umbrella organisation, now closed.

'I find it immensely satisfying to create informative sets of minutes and draft the agendas. I like to think that both charities benefit from my input. Over the past few years, I've learned a lot about the problems that confront many families today and this has made me more understanding. Both charities have benefited from the time I have at my disposal and my wish to be an active trustee. My advice to someone thinking about such a role is that you will be surprised at how much you can contribute.'

Danielle Macleod is a Trustee of Safe Space, a charity that provides free and confidential support services for male and female survivors of sexual abuse from the age of 12 onwards.

Danielle says:

'I've been involved with Safe Space for just over a year and a half now. I'd been looking to get involved with a local charity for some time and had been active in another charity for the previous year. It was during this work that I met the Chair of Safe Space, who invited me to find out more about them. Safe Space were a really interesting charity for me - local, dedicated and with a cause that has a high demand for service, yet is difficult to promote. I wasn't entirely sure exactly what I could offer, but hoped that my business and HR skills might be of some use. So I applied to become a Trustee, had an interview and got the role!

'What do I get out of it? A sense of perspective and reality. I work for a very large company and have good resources at my fingertips, meaning that I can get things done when I need to. I find that working with Safe Space reminds me that there is more to the world than business and that every penny is precious and should be treated with respect. I take that back to the teams I work with too - it really helps us be more careful in our decisions.

'What do Safe Space get out of it? Since I joined I've had to turn my hand to all kinds of things in the hope of making a difference. Anything from advising on HR issues to running workshops, from finding pro bono experts to support us in moving space, to this year rolling up our sleeves and bringing together a gang of volunteers to launch our biggest fundraiser yet, the Safe Space Write-athon (www.safespacewrite-athon.co.uk). What I really hope they get out of it, is a sense of support and willingness to help. I also hope that they get a different perspective from me and some benefit from my experience in the corporate world.

'What would my advice be to someone who wants to get involved? Be prepared to be patient and understanding, and make a decent commitment - to be at the things you say you will, and to be involved for a while. Accept that every idea you have won't be right for your charity, but every now and then, some of them might just fly. Expect this to take up some of your time and know that you won't always get a warm fuzzy feeling just because you decided to get involved. In return for all of that, I guarantee you'll get more than you imagined - you'll meet new people and get to be a small part of an inspirational world where people do things because it's the right thing to do, not because they're trying to make a profit.'

Marion Francis is a trustee of The Leprosy Mission, a Christian charity based in Stirling. The charity is part of a global partnership that brings healing and justice to those affected by leprosy.

Marion says:

'I've been a member of The Leprosy Mission Scotland Board of Trustees for just over a year. I became involved because it's a small charity dealing with a stigmatised "old fashioned" issue. Many people think that leprosy was eradicated long ago, but it still affects many people across the world, though it can be treated very easily once it's diagnosed. However, the disease still stigmatises many people, their families and communities. The Leprosy Mission Scotland raises funds for projects in Africa and Asia which provide support for those affected by leprosy, including training programmes, medical support, and community support.

'Being a trustee of the charity is a real privilege. I'm part of a board which meets four times a year and has people from all walks of life. Being part of this team is great. I've worked in economic development for over 20 years and being a trustee of The Leprosy Mission Scotland allows me to use some of my experience to benefit projects across the globe. Being a trustee also enables me to get involved in the business side of the organisation, helping to ensure it is run effectively and efficiently and therefore makes the most of all the money raised by individual givers and corporate donations or institutional grants.

'I'm a 47 year old mum of four kids, with a professional day job as well. So in many ways I don't have a huge amount of time to be the trustee of a charity, but I find that I can fit in Leprosy Mission meetings and commitments - and I thoroughly enjoy it.'

Sandi Wilkie is chair of Simpsons Special Care Babies (SSCB), based in Edinburgh. The charity supports the Simpsons neonatal unit at Edinburgh's Royal Infirmary.

Sandi says:

'I've been part of the charity for over a year now. After the unexpected premature birth of my first daughter Alex at 27 weeks, it felt only right to give support back. It's a charity very close to my heart, being a former premature baby myself. We took Alex home three months later and she grew and got stronger. It was then that I decided it was time to get in touch and see how I could help. And here I am!

'A baby's chances of survival depend on a number of things - having access to up-to-date medical and nursing care, as well as the love and support of family and friends. Fortunately, scientific advances are developing at a phenomenal rate, but due to pressure on NHS resources, the neonatal unit can't always keep pace with these advances and SSCB tries to bridge this gap. We help with funding for equipment and training for nurses, all of which helps result in increased knowledge and facilities to ensure that a baby has the best chance of survival and getting home.

'SSCB is solely reliant on volunteers and fundraising, which means that charity really does start at home - with this, we can make a difference to fragile babies' lives and futures. Having been on the neonatal journey myself and the rollercoaster of events and emotions that arise, it's reassuring to know that we can make the experience as easy as possible for all involved. Thanks to SSCB, every baby on the unit can benefit from the life saving technology and get the best start in life. I would say to anyone thinking about joining as a trustee, just do it! If you have the time to spare - certainly SSCB is open to all support. One in every nine babies is born prematurely or sick in the UK, and with willing volunteers, we can make sure these little fighters get stronger and go home to their families.'