Get on board: How we help charities thrive

People playing in the park, part of one of the charities Standard Life Savings support.

News & Insights

Sandy Macdonald

13th November 2015 at 7:00am

November is the month for charities

The first week of November was hugely busy.

Not only was it Living Wage week, which we’re heavily involved with at Standard Life, it was also Trustee week.

Being a charity trustee is one of the most rewarding aspects of my life and I’d like to take this opportunity to explain why, and what, Standard Life is doing in this area.

My first charity trustee role was with Venture Scotland, which I joined about ten years ago and where I spent six years.

I got involved because it’s a great charity which develops the skills of young people age 16-30 through outdoor experiences.

I also wanted to learn and develop and, as I consider myself to have been extremely fortunate in life, to give something back.

I loved my time as a trustee there and I wanted to continue to be involved with charities in a similar way, so I applied for a trustee role with Children 1st. Three years on, I’m still there.

Inspiring people

I’ve had the opportunity to make friends, meet amazing and inspiring people from all kinds of backgrounds, build a broader perspective and insight of what leadership, marketing and sustainability mean in different organisations; and I’ve achieved some of the things I’m most proud of from my working life.

Charities are under more scrutiny

Not much that’s worth having comes easy and the past ten years have not been straightforward for the third sector with the knock-on effect of the financial crisis putting pressure on budgets, and  greater scrutiny of governance and fundraising standards.

There have been numerous examples in the national press of charities which have not met the grade.

With both charities I’ve been involved with, I’ve been fortunate to work with like-minded people with a range of skills who’ve collaborated to make sure their organisation is in a strong position to face any challenging conditions.

In a small but significant way, we’re playing our part to make sure the people who work in the charities can carry on improving the lives of children and young people.

At Standard Life, we encourage our people to volunteer for at least three days a year by giving them that time back.

For our leaders, we provide additional support such as training on how to be an effective board member.

We recently organised a session with Noel Harwerth, one of our Standard Life Plc board members, and two well-known figures from the Scottish charity scene, Louise Macdonald, Chief Executive of Young Scot and Ewan Aitken, Chief Executive of Cyrenians.

All three have a wealth of experience and openly and generously shared their insights, experience and advice on best practice for board members.

We encourage our people to get involved for themselves, for us, and for our communities.

Through encouraging them to share their skills as accountants, lawyers, marketers, operations managers, customer service specialists, and so on, they can hone their abilities by applying their knowledge in different ways.

Developing diversity

We also collaborate with, and learn from, the charity sector.

To give one example, we are consciously trying to improve diversity across Standard Life.  In my experience, the third sector is better at involving young people in decision making and we’ve learned from that.

In the past year, we’ve appointed younger trustees to our internal boards, and we ran a session with our main board with some of our recent school leavers and representatives from the Tomorrow’s People charity.

We’re also helping those in our Women’s Development Network to get more women board- and executive-ready to support our aim of improving gender diversity right to the top of our organisation.

Charities are, by necessity, often good at finding solutions that don’t break the bank, engage the wider public, and relentlessly focus on those they serve. These are lessons I have learned from them.

Supporting our people to volunteer as trustees not only allows us to develop their skills in a way that strengthens the links and understanding between the private and third sectors, and it benefits both sides and wider society at the same time.

That’s definitely something worth shouting about.

Trustees’ Week is an annual event to showcase the great work that trustees do and highlight opportunities for people from all walks of life to get involved and make a difference.

Join the conversation

Join the conversation and follow us on twitter @StandardLifeUK and Facebook and let us know about any of the charitable initiatives that you support or any charities you feel we should be talking to.