Birmingham Tribunal Unit
Jim Crawshaw (Chair) and Kathleen Corrigan (Manager) of Birmingham Tribunal Unit (BTU) talk about the role of trustees in their organisation.
Jim, how did you get involved as a trustee?
Jim: I was approached by a friend of a friend one night at a house party, and, under the influence of alcohol, it seemed like a good idea! I then completed the initial application form and attended the next meeting where I was nominated onto the committee as a member.
Did you have any reservations about becoming a trustee?
I didn't really understand what being on a management committee entailed so it was fairly daunting initially. However, I was aware of BTU as an organisation and strongly believed in the work that they do for disadvantaged groups in Birmingham. I was slightly concerned that I didn't have enough in-depth knowledge of the specialised work the Unit does or that I had the necessary skills. However, I grew into the role and have now been an active member of the management committee for over three years.
What's the best thing about being a trustee with the organisation?
The feeling that you are contributing positively to the running of an organisation that provides an invaluable service to residents of Birmingham. It has also been extremely positive in developing my own skills – I'm involved in a variety of aspects of the running of an organisation, that I wouldn't necessary encounter in my day job.
How much time does it take?
The Unit has monthly meetings which run for approximately two hours. Additionally, as the current Chair I probably commit on average about five hours a month to BTU.
What have you learned from being a trustee?
I've been involved in the development of policies and practices, recruiting staff, grievance and disciplinary procedures and a wide range of other organisational decision making. These have all contributed to developing my own skills.
Do you think the role suits a particular kind of person?
Not particularly, though you do have to be aware of the commitment and be willing to attend regular meetings. Having transferable skills - financial, legal, administrative etc - can be beneficial but aren't essential. The current membership is made up of people from diverse backgrounds and a variety of different working environments.
Kathleen, from a staff point of view, how do you see the role of the trustees?
Kathleen: The role of the trustees from a staff point of view is to have overall responsibility for managing the organisation. This is distinct from day-to-day operational issues. The trustees make final decisions regarding strategy, funding and personnel but these decisions are informed by opinions and proposals put forward by paid staff as well as the trustees themselves.
How do you keep trustees up to date with the organisation's work?
Our trustees are kept informed by staff reports on key areas of work. These are presented at monthly meetings and may be verbal or written. That is the formal process but inevitably there are informal processes such as ad hoc telephone calls.
What is the organisation looking for from new trustees?
The main expectation of any new trustee, and what we try to look for when recruiting, is commitment to the role, the organisations aims and the organisation itself.
What do you think are the skills that trustees, in general, need?
I don't think there is a set of skills that would enable any one person to be an effective trustee. We have trustees with lots of differing but complimentary skills. An ability to get along with people, a willingness to participate in the workings of the committee and express an opinion are essentials in my view. In this organisation, paid staff are delegated with responsibility for implementing trustees' decisions so 'hands on' skills are less important than might be the case in other organisations. I suppose basic literacy and numeracy are useful skills to have because of the need to read reports and consider cash-flows, but other than those basic skills, commitment is the main requirement.
Birmingham Tribunal Unit provides advice, information, representation and training in all aspects of the welfare rights field. They are currently rectruiting trustees.