Getting good guidance
Interview by Adam Woodhall — Ian Joseph has had an eclectic career. He moved from being a pastor to working with those experiencing homelessness and drug addiction, and then took an interesting step into being a headhunter. His heart was still in the right place however, as he continued working in the charity sector, recruiting the CEO's of numerous charities such RSPCA and National Autistic Society. As well as being a father of three, Joseph walks the talk himself as a trustee of a charity.
Now CEO of Trustees Unlimited, a leading resource of trustees and board roles for not-for-profits, I talked with Joseph about the benefits of good governance, avoiding Napoleon’s and finding where the magic happens—Adam Woodhall
AW: Tell me about Trustees Unlimited.
IJ: We set up Trustees Unlimited over seven years ago, because we felt there was a real need for charities, particularly smaller ones, to tap into a much richer, broader talent pool of potential trustees. It is a commercial business, but with a social heart pumping inside it, and we were one of the first B Corporations in the UK. We get our revenue from the work we do with non-profits—everything from advertising right through to the full bells and whistles of head hunting and also the ‘Step on Board’ Programme, which we deliver in partnership with the National Council for Voluntary Organisations.
AW: Tell me about the Step on Board and why would individuals and corporations get involved?
IJ: We have a belief that there's huge potential in businesses and charities working together to meet a collective suite of goals. Step on Board is therefore a nationwide opportunity for businesses to help their senior leaders and rising stars move on to non-profit boards. Together with our partner, the NCVO, we are working with a raft of corporates including Google, PA Consulting, RBS and Barclays banks, and Mishcon de Reya, the law firm.
A number of reasons spring to mind as to why people would become trustees. One is people often want to engage with their local communities in a more profound way, as professionals can feel a little transient—leaving the house at 6:30 in the morning and then getting home at silly o'clock. Another reason is to support causes they feel passionate about, leveraging their skills and talents in a sustainable way. A by-product is that people can also learn new skills, which goes beyond painting a local school.
From an employer's point of view, CIPD did some research in 2015 and they found 65% of employees, particularly the younger generations, are more likely to work for an employer that actively encourages volunteering. For me, where the magic happens is when a commercial entity recognises that CSR and HR come together, because on the one hand, the trustee is reflecting the values of their employer, but they're also giving back and learning themselves as well.
AW: Can you give me an inspiring case study?
IJ: One that springs to mind is LHA London, which supports young people starting out in London. When they looked around their boardroom, they realised that they had very few younger people, and this is where we came in, introducing a young lawyer from Mishcon de Reya. They were impressed with not only her legal credentials, but her understanding of social media and how to communicate with young people, where she throws herself in, heart and soul. LHA were so impressed, that when we were doing the last round of recruitment, she was on the panel. For the trustee, it has been wonderful experience, and for LHA, they've got this really sharp, young lawyer as a trustee, who they’d have struggled to find if it wasn’t for Step on Board.
AW: What inspired you to lead Trustees Unlimited?
IJ: My work here is a joy, not a burden, because I'm passionate about governance and getting the right boards. Not governance for its own sake, but because if you get it right, the impact on the beneficiaries is quite profound, and I've been around long enough now to see that when governance goes wrong, the consequences are tragic, such as with Kids Company. In some perverse sort of way, I think Kids Company debacle has, in some respects, shaken up governance in the sector, and made people realise if we're going to do this we're going to do it right.
AW: What are lessons you’ve learnt at Trustees Unlimited?
IJ: A big lesson for me has been to ensure a charity and trustee don’t rush into consummating a relationship. Take time walking up the aisle. There's no harm, at that first board meeting, having the designate trustee candidate attend as an observer, so the board can witness their behaviour. Furthermore, potential trustees should check the chair is not a little Napoleon who suppresses debate and the CEO doesn't try and manage the board.
AW: What have you found most fulfilling since you've become involved in Trustees Unlimited?
IJ: It is really heartening to recognise that the UK is known throughout the world as having a volunteer culture, so incredibly rewarding to see the passion of senior business people who have stepped up to be trustees. The overriding thing though is knowing the work we're doing is helping transform lives: getting great governance means charities can be even more effective.