Trustee Q&A with John Graham

4 minutes
Matt Adams

By Matt Adams

For our next Trustee Q&A, we interviewed the Treasurer of the British Lung Foundation and Asthma UK to find out his insights on being a Trustee, how the organisation has coped through the pandemic and what it's like being a Board member during the merger of two national charities.

How would you describe your current Trustee role?

I am the Honorary Treasurer

What initially interested you in joining a Board?

I had been Finance Director of two major charities spanning 20 years. I have an interest in the sector and on retiring I wanted to keep involved and to continue to help the sector develop.

What do you find the most rewarding about being a Trustee?

Working with the Executive in an advisory role. Feeling involved with the cause and sharing the excitement when something goes right like a positive response to a policy statement or receiving a big gift.

What skills and experience did you want to bring to your current Trustee position?

Having been part of a charity Executive team for 20 years I had to relearn my skills and how I could make most use of them in a non-Executive role. I have enjoyed learning to make that transition.

What skills did you hope to develop?

Being able to advise and persuade rather than to do. Learn when to stand back and when to intervene.

A Trustee role requires a significant amount of time for meetings, reviewing papers, and other events/activities. How did you balance your role with other commitments?

I tend to define work times and always find time to be retired! I have the mantra of never getting stressed over something; I am after all only a volunteer. A Trustee role will absorb as much as you want to give it and it is possible to manage the role into the time available.

You recently oversaw the merger of two national charities, the British Lung Foundation and Asthma UK, can you talk to us about any challenges you encountered?

A merger of two equal-sized charities is probably the most difficult and challenging. When a large charity merges with a smaller one, the larger charity tends to remain dominant and staff, systems, and properties from the smaller are fitted into the larger. When two equal-sized charities merge, there is no obvious direction. Staff in both charities feel equally worried about the future and hence the communications with staff are larger, take place more often, and have to be focused. Keeping the staff on board and motivated was the biggest challenge. The second biggest was amalgamating the accounting systems. There is no obvious direction for which systems will prevail; that was a decision taken two months in and it took 6 months to get a common accounting coding system. In the meantime, Directors were still getting information about the individual charities.

How has your trustee role adapted in light of the Covid-19 pandemic?

All the meetings are remote by Zoom or Teams. We are coping but missing the personal interaction of a Trustee meeting in person. The charity was in a good position as we entered the pandemic. The merger took place on 1 January 2020 and in preparation we had put a recruitment freeze on both charities for the last quarter of 2019. We had also made the reductions in the organisation in early 2020 as a result of the merger so went into the pandemic in a lean state.

Income held up because we had no retail and the majority comes from direct givers. The only impact was losing the London Marathon and other events. But the cost reductions in hand as a result of the merger were sufficient to cover this, so we have ridden the pandemic well.

What do you think are the characteristics of a great Trustee?

Listen, support, help by asking questions. Leave the ego outside the room and put the cause first. Make sure the Executive are challenged in a supportive and helpful way.

What motivates you as an individual?

Achieving things. I get more satisfaction out of building the house than I do by living in it. As I mature, I get that satisfaction by helping someone else doing the building.

What advice would you give to someone looking for their first Trustee role?

Go for it but don't underestimate the commitments. Trustees carry responsibilities and as a Trustee, you have to remain involved.

How would you describe TPP?

Leading recruitment agency for the charity sector that uses their market-leading position to help and support the sector.

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

Yes – you know the sector and can pick the right people.

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