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UK Charities and Not-For-Profits: What Does Board Mentorship Entail?

Under the terms of UK corporate law, board members or trustees at charities and not-for-profits are held responsible for acting in the best interests of their organisations, and may be held liable for non-compliance in the same way as a director at a for-profit company. This means that mentoring a board member at such an organisation may be undertaken by an experienced and knowledgeable board member of a not-for-profit company.  A mentor should plan to commit to at least six months for skills transfer and orientation, as the new board member may come to the organisation with a limited skills base.

Qualifications for Mentoring at UK Not-for-Profits or Charities

Mentoring a UK Charity Trustee (board member) or a Not-For-Profit Board Member requires sure knowledge and experience: The legal demands on and liability of either position are essentially the same as that of a board member at a for-profit company.

Charities are governed by the Charities Act 2011 and the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Act 2016, which strengthens the powers of the Charity Commission, as well as by the Trustees Acts 1925, 2000. There is also a Statement of Recommended Practice published by the Charity Commission, which is a kind of corporate governance code. Not-for-profits are governed by the Companies Act 2006, 2013.

In both cases, this means that a board member at a not-for-profit organisation in the UK can be held personally responsible for failing to work in the best interest of the organisation.

There are, however, very few restrictions on those who may act as board members at these organisations – almost anyone over 18, who has never been arrested and who is not involved in bankruptcy proceedings may take the job.

This means that the role of the mentor at a charity or not-for-profit is demanding, as the person being mentored may start out with very little knowledge of business or law. In general, the period of mentorship lasts about six months, but may require a longer commitment.

Skills Transfer

Just as a business professional appointed to a for-profit board, the mentor should first seek to grasp the mission and scope of operations of the organisation, review any current issues that the charity faces, and have a look at its recent accounts so they can fully understand their role there. It is important to understand how big the challenges will be and to plan to devote the time needed for the job.

It’s also advisable to do some internal networking. Speak to the staff and other trustees of the charity, contact the chair and, if possible, visit a project and meet service users. Attend some events as well.

Planning a Full Programme

After the board elects a new director, the chair should contact her to welcome her to the board. During that phone call, the chair should also tell the new director about his or her mentor and let her know that the mentor will be in touch soon. Within the week, the mentor should call the new director. This first conversation is simple, short and light on content. This call is not an in-depth training session — it’s simply an opportunity to connect and begin getting to know each other.

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The next step is to get to know the trustee or board member that you are mentoring.  As we’ve seen, there is no guarantee of a skills base, even though the person may be involved in complex areas like managing finances or risk management.

You will need, first, to gauge the skills that the person already has. Then you will have to tailor a programme that will provide both skills training and help the new board member understand what his or her new responsibilities are.

Most organisations of this type expect directors to engage in fundraising. This is a separate skill set, and one in which the role of the mentor can be especially important.  You will be expected, as part of the programme for training, to devote time to the basics of this activity.

Over the course of the year, as the new director participates increasingly in the life of the organisation, the mentor is the person that the new director contacts when he or she has questions. More importantly, the mentor should take the initiative to call two or three times during the year just to check in. The mentor is the person who makes contact a few days before the new director’s first board meeting to go over what to expect and any questions about the agenda and other materials.

After every project, we collect feedback so that we can learn and improve. Our ex-mentees are our best advocates, so you should see what they say. In short, outcomes include: better clarity and focus; increased confidence; more effective working relationships with trustees, colleagues and volunteers; and, more generally, a chance for those in charge of running the charity to bring their heads above water and think about the future. These benefits feed into better-targeted and more effective fundraising, better management and delivery of services, and more focused and confident management.

The benefits of this mentoring relationship go beyond getting the new director up to speed quickly. Both the mentor and the new director develop a stronger connection to the board. Over time, the mentoring process builds stronger cohesiveness among all board members. The board learns more rapidly when it is doing things that don’t make sense, and provides an opening for new people to test ideas other than in full board meetings.

Diligent Boards Supports the Mentoring Process

The secure and efficient communication provided by Diligent Boards facilitates the mentoring process. With Diligent Boards, on-the-go directors will have more than iPad board meeting software at their fingertips. From a Touch ID sign-on, they’ll be able to work across devices (with real-time syncing) to: stay current and keep up with committee meetings and materials; communicate and annotate documents in tandem with other users and get notifications for updates; and easily search archives and board resources. Diligent Boards’ award-winning customer service is always available to support the mentoring process.

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