We spoke to Alison Fisher, Chief Executive at Mind BLMK (Bedfordshire Luton and Milton Keynes) which is one of the larger charitable organisations in Bedfordshire. Mind BLMK have their head office at the Rufus Centre in Flitwick, and offer a range of services across Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes aimed at meeting individual needs and promoting mental health recovery, wellbeing and independence.
Alison explained how the organisation had grown, over the past 38 years, from a one-to-one support service called The Befrienders, to the substantial network of services and projects that it is today. With some 55 staff and over 150 volunteers, it is important for the organisation to have a Board of Trustees who can direct, steer and ensure that MindBLMK continues to deliver the most appropriate services, and is run in a professional way.
Throughout its most recent history, the Board has successfully negotiated a takeover of Milton Keynes Mind and is currently embedding a move to running services on a more commercial model. It is important to get the right team to steer safely into the unknown future. The Board can consist of any number of members between five and 12 trustees, but Alison finds that 8 seems about the right number. Each trustee buddies up with a locality or a project which enables them to make direct contact with the services offered and provides an opportunity to ‘walk in the shoes of service users’.
The Board is currently in a healthy position and has recently been able to recruit two new strong candidates. Selected applicants were screened by Alison and then recommendations for interview made to the Board. Ensuring that applicants share the same values, and are on-board with the mission, vision and direction of the organisation is critical. The interview panel for appointment as a trustee will comprise of Board members and service users. They are looking for motivation, team players, a belief that the person can make a difference at the strategic level and a questioning mind. Those who want to make a difference in a more practical way are steered into other volunteering roles.
Good decision-making is critical to secure the future of an organisation, and never more so than in today’s climate. Mind BLMK have a number of practices which increase the likelihood that their decision-making at a strategic level is well-founded. There is a deliberate attempt to recruit younger people and ensure that those in place have the skills and energy levels required for today’s operating environment. Alison believes that her role is to make it easy for trustees to leave should they no longer wish to stay on, as well as to make it easy for them to do their job by ensuring that they are upskilled through their experience with the organisation.
Another factor in good running of the Board, is to ensure that new trustees are introduced to the Board one at a time to enable them to integrate to the Board effectively and become familiar with their role. There are just four board meetings to attend each year, and a further attendance at four committee meetings is expected, in addition to the Annual General Meeting.
The organisation’s strategic plan is rooted in the service user experience, and this grounds their good decision-making. Alongside the Board, Mind BLMK also has a Council which is made up of service user, staff and volunteer representatives. The Council aids Board decisions by offering an advice and consultative channel.
From the welcome and respect given from stepping through the door at MindBLMK, it is apparent that the organisation knows how to look after people – whether they are service users, volunteers, staff or interested parties and Alison firmly believes that professionalism is key to their success. She mentioned a forthcoming dinner being held for trustees who had recently moved on from the organisation. It was not surprising to find that the organisation wanted to honour their contribution and commitment with the same professionalism and appreciation with which they were welcoming their new members.
All charitable organisations are governed by trustees and there are always opportunities to become involved for those with the right skills, abilities, and a passion for the vision of the charity they are considering. It is important to realise that being a trustee comes with significant responsibilities and a good guide to these can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-essential-trustee-what-you-need-to-know-cc3 .
CVS runs training for trustees from time to time and can help on matters of governance and funding as well as volunteer recruitment. If you would like to consider becoming a trustee for a local oragnisation you can find out about vacancies that we are promoting throughout November by speaking to the Volunteering Advisor at CVS – email firstname.lastname@example.org, 01234 354 366. Also, keep a look-out on CVS twitter feed @CVSbeds – we will be featuring all things trustee-related throughout November.