November 07, 2022


This interview is with Justin Sargent OBE. Justin is the Chief Executive of the Somerset Community Foundation, which aims to help people in Somerset change the world on their doorstep, and build stronger communities by linking local philanthropists and givers to their local community.

Hi Justin, thanks for sparing us the time to speak today. You’re clearly heavily involved in the charity sector through your job, but I’m aware you’re also a Trustee. What charity are you involved with and why did you first become a Trustee?

I’m a trustee with the Nelson Trust, a SW charity helping people recover from trauma and addiction to enjoy lifelong recovery.

First and foremost, I wanted to use my skills, knowledge and experience to give something back. I then sought an opportunity with a charity I admired but felt I could contribute to in a meaningful way. I am very busy, so it also needed to be a role that was not going to be very time consuming.

I applied to join the Nelson Trust Board because I saw it as a growing ambitious charity that puts tangible roots down in new communities and doesn’t just chase funding opportunities. There is a real integrity to its work. Starting out from where I grew up in Gloucestershire I first encountered it when it moved into Somerset.

It’s a fantastic charity, I can see what drew you to it. What do you enjoy about being a Trustee and what do you get from it?

There is a brilliant sense of shared purpose across the Board. The charity has been growing rapidly, expanding into new communities and the trustees have an important role to scrutinise the direction of travel and make sure that the charity remains in sound health. It is significantly larger than a lot of charities I work with on a day-to-day basis, and I find it fascinating to understand the business model, help to make it work and contribute to effective governance.

Although I wish I could give more time, meeting the staff and some of people supported by the charity really does give something back to me. As someone who is involved in a leadership role in a charity myself, it also helps me understand the how Board’s work and how to help trustees make effective and rewarding contributions to the charity I work for.

You’ve obviously seen a lot of Board’s operate and I know first-hand how you value the range of experience and insights that a diverse board can bring. How do you think more people (particularly younger people) can be encouraged to be a trustee?

First, existing Board need to understand the value that younger people can bring, and younger people need to understand how valuable their insights can be. They often won’t have the depth of experience of older people and perhaps not the time either, but their values, expectations and insights cannot be replicated by people of my age! In an effective Board, they will have the room and space to ask different questions, and that has to be welcomed.

On the flipside, there is enormous development opportunities for younger people. It can be an amazing opportunity to engage in strategy, to understand effective governance, think about financial sustainability, and spend time with people from different walks of life. Learning to deal with challenge and disagreement, balancing personal views with the best interest of the charity, reaching consensus (or not!) are valuable life lessons.

What tips would you give anyone who is thinking about becoming a trustee?

First of all, think about how much time you can give, what you have to offer, what you want to get from being a trustee. Second, think about the things that would make it meaningful: that might be the place where the charity works and/or its purpose.

Once you apply, don’t lose sight of the fact that you are offering your time for free. Take time to understand how they will help you become an effective trustee, and why they want a younger person. Is it fulfilling a tick-box (avoid!) or is it because they really want to hear a different perspective and draw on your insights (go for it!).

You probably should also read the guidance from the Charity Commission on being an effective trustee. It is very good but very dry and can be intimidating because it is so formal, so read around other sources…or better still find a way to speak to someone who is already a trustee of any charity.

I’d like to thank Justin for the time he took to answer my questions – some useful considerations here and an honest voice on how being a trustee can actually be really helpful to the individual. I’ve certainly learned a huge amounts about a wide variety of topics and being part of a diverse board with a range of experience has helped give me a different perspective. It’s also important not to underestimate what you can provide to the charity!


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