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Chair Q&A

Posted on 17/05/2021 by Brigitte Stundner

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In our latest Q&A, we interviewed Nicola Hannam, Chair of nurtureuk to get her insights on the move from being a Trustee to becoming Chair, the essential characteristics needed for a Chair to succeed, how nurtureuk has coped through the pandemic and much more!

You recently became Chair of nurtureuk after being a Trustee for several years, what would you say has been the main difference in the two roles?

Previously I was more focused on my own input, now it is my responsibility to lead the board and ensure we are working effectively as a team. This means I am always thinking about how best we draw on the different specialisms the trustees bring and coordinating across the board. I was Vice-Chair for 18 months so already had closer engagement with the executive team than some trustees and I now regularly act as a sounding board for our new CEO, who took up her post in July.

What advice would you give to trustees stepping up to the Chair role?

The time commitment does increase so be prepared for that and invest in the relationship with your CEO. In my professional life, I have worked closely with trustee boards for many years so I have plenty of experience to draw on, but I also regularly go back to various sources of guidance including the Association of Chairs and NCVO.

What initially interested you in joining a Board?

I have worked for charitable professional associations for many years and studied voluntary sector management, so I wanted to use my knowledge and experience to help a charity with a more direct connection to societal impact. At nurtureuk, I know we are making a difference to the social and emotional development of children and young people that will influence their life path for the better.

I also knew that being a trustee would be a brilliant development opportunity for me and I am thriving on the challenge.

What do you find the most rewarding about being a Board member?

I often leave meetings inspired by the passion of our team and the difference we are making to young lives. I know a nurture group and nurturing approach at school would have helped me as a child.

I’ve also loved getting to know some wonderful colleagues who share my values, are fascinating and fun.

When you joined the board, what experience did you want to bring? 

I had recently completed my Master’s so I was bringing up to date knowledge on best practice but also many years’ experience of charity governance and some experience of education policy.

What skills do you think are crucial in a Chair role and what do you think are the characteristics of a great Trustee?

Great trustees are committed, responsive, aware of how best they can contribute to the charity and are always constructive.

As Chair you have to keep your eye on the direction of travel, it is very easy to get bogged down in the detail and the challenges that arise. This means being strategic, but I also think Chairs need to be diplomatic and able to set their ego aside. The most impressive Chairs I’ve worked with are clear on where they want to get to and skilled at subtly drawing out the best from their board. I’m still learning!

In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, how has the organisation and board had to adapt?

Like most charities we have had to shift to working virtually, I am yet to chair a face to face meeting. Fortunately, our team were able to adapt to deliver online training and schools have continued to draw on our services. We are a trading charity so, thanks to the efforts of our brilliant team, our income streams recovered quickly but we did restructure to ensure we are as efficient as possible. 

What advice would you give new Trustees joining a board whilst the meetings are still done remotely?

Take the time to speak one to one with as many trustees and staff as possible so that you can get under the skin of the charity and build the necessary relationships.

What advice would you give to someone looking for their first Board position?

Look for a cause you are truly passionate about and don’t be afraid to contact a charity even if they are not actively seeking trustees. Even if there isn’t a space on the board, you may be able to join a subcommittee to get experience and develop your understanding of the organisation. Also consider carefully whether your experience matches the charity’s stage of development - are they established and looking to innovate or scale-up or is it a start-up organisation.

How would you describe TPP?

Third sector specialists covering all roles with an experienced team.

Would you recommend TPP’s services to someone seeking a Trustee role?

Yes, they will help you find the right match.