Thursday, 3 November 2011
Movingpictures 16: Strong Trustees Week?
The video above is part of the promotional activities of Trustees Week - a week promoting the idea of being a trustee of a charity. Now, just because Cameron and his cronies are intent on replacing many of our cherished public services with Big Society conscripts of one sort or another, doesn't mean that getting involved in charities isn't a great idea. You are not subconsciously helping the Tories. You can see lots of the reasons why set out on the Trustees Week site. (This video is particularly promoting the value of/to young trustees.)
Funnily enough, I spent a large part of yesterday doing some of my own trustee work, interviewing some potential new board members for AudioVisual Arts North East, the organisation behind the AV Festival, and talking to someone else about potential board members for their organisation. I am involved with a number of arts organisations - AV, Seven Stories and Swallows Foundation UK. That's one more than ideal, perhaps, but they are all great causes, and very different, and I get something different from them all, so am happy to do it. (Don't think I'm just a boy who cain't say no, by the way. I can and have done, and am definitely not taking on any more.)
What do I get, you ask? All my trusteeships give me as much as I give them. I am exposed to different types of challenges, debates and ways of thinking than my work. I am kept in touch with different sorts of art and cultural practice. Exercising leadership within a very diverse group of people at a non-executive level is a fascinating and stimulating process. My fellow trustees become part of my networks, but also teach by their example. I can see how some people I might never otherwise have met think and work through strategic issues. I am also kept in touch with the detailed issues of running complex organisations, from an oversight position rather than hands-on. In short, it's a form of 'continuous professional development' that's well worth the time I put in.
Without wanting to sound pious it's also a way of 'putting something back'. I was very aware when I worked for Arts Council how reliant we were on the unpaid volunteers who formed the boards of RFOs. I'm not sure we were always able to properly reflect this, or that we paid them sufficient due, and when I became 'free' to do it again, I was keen to do so. I'd urge anyone to give it some thought, and advise any business that they're likely to see a good return on time flexibly 'allowed' to staff to be on boards. If next year's training budget has been, ahem, 'trimmed', a few hours a month to allow someone to be a trustee could be good way of continuing to invest in developing staff.
I also think that good governance - at individual and sectoral level - is partly the responsibility of those of us whose lives are in culture, as well as those who want to support arts organisations. (I don't think we should let 'other people' take all the responsibility for that, anyway, let's put it like that.) The direction and purpose of our culture is, after all, far too precious to be be left to 'the great and the good' and the retired. I would also say that standards of governance need to be as constantly improving as any other area of the arts and culture.
I'll conclude, therefore, with two 'classic questions'. If not you, who? If not now, when?