Anyone who has given their time and energy to work as a volunteer knows that the reward comes from feeling your efforts are connected up to a deep sense of purpose. This need for a sense of purpose is innate in us all, it is a human given. It’s a human characteristic that makes working for an organisation with an inspiring vision seem worthwhile. Believing that what you do makes a difference to people’s lives is a brilliant feeling and even better when you witness the differences first hand, as you often do in small charities like KET.
KET works with people of employable age to help them develop their potential and break down barriers to gaining meaningful work. The work resonates with my values and professional skills and experience. However, the work of a Trustee is not a feel good hobby, in fact many of the legal duties and responsibilities can keep you awake at night. NPC’s founding Trustee Peter Wheeler states, “being a Trustee should not be a comfortable job. If it is you should get out”. If you are thinking about becoming a Trustee I suggest you read http://www.governancecode.org/full-code-of-governance/ information on the governance duties, to understand the depth of responsibility that sits on the shoulders of any Trustee.
In a society that seems to value money more than anything, with people up to their tonsils in debt in an economy that constantly demands more for less, charities such as KET have to perform economic magic. This places additional burdens on Trustees who feel increasingly forced to prove their worth on the basis of evidencing competitive value for money. For someone like me, having survived in the corporate world of astronomical competition, this seems like a very normal demand. However reflecting on this cognitive bias, if I accept that the test of KET’s worth is its ability to beat the competition to ensure financial prosperity, does this take attention away from the value of the work to our beneficiaries, the very people that give us our raison d’etre.
This interesting tension was evident during my first Board meeting as a Trustee. We debated the widely accepted logic that you should run a charity like a commercial business. While many of the disciplines associated with good commercial management clearly make sense, our values add framework and should also capture benefits to the communities we serve based on how our work has made life more worthwhile. At KET our beneficiaries talk about how participating in our programmes improves their confidence, self-esteem, pride, motivation, networking, knowledge and skills. Their feedback mentions how our work helps them belong to a community, foster friendships, beat depression and find their voice. We routinely get this type of feedback even when they do not get a job right away. Many of our beneficiaries keep up their connection to KET as volunteers. These things really matter and are much harder to measure.
Charities like KET deliver to individuals, communities, society and the greater economy, value that is experienced in terms of feelings and mental well-being. The smart thing will be convincing people that this is really priceless. We are currently working out how to do this as part of a new strategic plan. As a newbie Trustee, I am being sucked in and feeling excited by the challenges ahead. I am also still a bit awed by what I have taken on but really inspired to make it all work.
Incidentally KET are recruiting for a new Chair.