Martin Farrell

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If you've taken the trouble to become a trustee ... show up

20 November 2014

Board members who routinely renege on their commitments drain the heart and soul out of a charity: they should consider resigning

Martin Farrell

You might recognise this bad habit. On the other hand, you might wonder what I'm on about. Everyone around you always turns up, attends meetings as they should do and are there when they said they would be. That's good. However, I have some solid evidence (which, as you will understand, must remain confidential) that there are some who, well, you know, just do not show up.

I am not referring to paid staff here – there are various ways of dealing with employees who don't make it into work. I am referring to volunteers who take on commitments, then do not deliver. Special among these are trustees, because their behaviour is amplified many-fold. If you do not recognise this behaviour, you might wish to scan other Third Sector pages for more interesting fare. But if it does ring a bell, read on.

"We have our annual celebration event in a very public place, with local dignitaries turning out, no doubt in all their finery. But only one trustee is coming – even though we gave them the date a year ago." Thus spake an exasperated chief executive.

This reminded me of a trustee awayday many years ago when we as trustees were asked to ponder what we offered the organisation. Hmmm. One of our most significant contributions from the staff's perspective was that we showed up. We did what we said we would do. We attended the board meeting, apologised when we couldn't, had read the papers and were generally available. Being there made it look like it all mattered to us. Which it did. Being on a board and not showing up is a bad habit that drains the heart and soul. What's more, it's bad manners. The more visible the position, the more toxic the absence.

So what words of wisdom can I offer?

Do this. Stand in front of a mirror. Say "I volunteered to (insert as appropriate) and I'm going to show up from now on." If you can't say it and look yourself in the eye, have a serious think about your commitment and consider resigning. If you can, put on whatever finery befits the occasion ... and show up. Body and soul.

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