This month we sit down with Sally Stephens, trustee of Elliot’s Footprint. A charity that helps families through child bereavement. They offer help and guidance whilst campaigning and fundraising for improved bereavement services. Working hard to take the loneliness and frustration out of the systems and processes that families face in the aftermath of losing a child.
As many people have said (and will continue, no doubt) there’s no such thing as a standard ‘day in the life’ for a trustee. I’m actually a trustee of three charities at the moment, and all of them are very different – which is part of what makes them wonderful. I’ll take the example of Elliot’s Footprint though, a Leeds-based charity which supports families who have experienced sudden bereavement of a child. We support families by raising awareness of the need for bereavement support, and through funding services with care providers. I’m a trustee and secretary of the charity.
I’ve been a trustee of various organisations for almost ten years, taking up my first trusteeship when I was about 23. Trusteeship is an amazing way to give back and support organisations by using your specialist skills, and as a career administrator and governance bod, giving those skills and time for free is really fulfilling to me (as well as being helpful to the charity!) I probably spend a day or two a month on my trustee role for Elliot’s Footprint, though it varies depending on how many meetings we have.
As the secretary I use a lot of my time coordinating with other trustees, putting together agendas and information for meetings, and then taking notes and actions away. I also draft our annual report and take care of all our communication with the Charity Commission. We’ve recently decided to incorporate the organisation, so my contribution has been gathering all the details we need, getting it into the right format and so on.
It can be hard when you’re not working with an organisation full-time to know that you’re doing a good job and being effective. We try and have regular conversations between the board, and last year we redeveloped our strategy to make sure we’ve got a clear focus and plan for our future. Elliot’s Footprint is a small charity with no staff, so the board have to be performing at our best for the organisation to thrive.
For me, the best thing about being a trustee is seeing the impact voluntary organisations have on communities and on individuals. Before joining Elliot’s Footprint, I had no idea how difficult it can be for families to navigate the healthcare and support system following the loss of a child, particularly in sudden circumstances, and so hearing the ways we’ve been able to support those families is hugely fulfilling. It can also be hard, and I’ve had to do a lot of homework to make sure I understand some of the technicalities which come up in our meetings, so that I can contribute and help us make the best possible decisions.
Even though we’re a small, completely voluntary-led organisation, Elliot’s Footprint benefits from exceptional people on our board. We were founded by John and Andrea, who lost their son Elliot unexpectedly about nine years ago and decided to make a change, and they are now joined on the board by Emily their daughter who gives us some excellent insight as a younger person. We’ve also got a number of healthcare professionals in different fields, a local church minister, and a business expert (who often has to join us from long train journeys around the country!) Everyone brings different life experience and a different voice, and I’ve learned a lot from each of them.
My top tip for someone looking to become a trustee is to work out exactly what it is you want to give. Our charities really need great trustees, but they don’t need people to just rock up. Great trustees put so much care and love into the work they do for their charity, and they deliver on the things they know will make a difference. Everyone has skills, knowledge and experience to give, so work out what your unique contribution is, and then find the organisation who will benefit the most from you!
To read more in the series of click; #ADayInTheLife of a trustee.