• September 9, 2019

Here Claire Carpenter, Founder and CEO of The Melting Pot, shares her experience of being a Trustee for the Postcode Innovation Trust. If this blog has you pondering how you can make social change happen through volunteering, it might be time to consider joining a board of Trustees – perhaps our board of Trustees!


Social capital, not GDP, is the real measurement of well-being and progress. If we apply and scale a ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’ approach just think what could be achieved. A whole nation of volunteers working to make our world a better place.

We all have one precious life and the same number of hours in the day. For the past 2 years, I’ve been a Trustee for the Postcode Innovation Trust (PIT), one of the newest charitable trusts funded by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.

As I prepare to step down I’ve reflected on the great opportunity it’s given me as an experienced social entrepreneur. I’ve learnt a lot, made new connections, and most importantly I’ve made strategic change through professional volunteering.

6 Questions to Consider:

1. Why are non-executive director (NEDs) vital to the Third Sector?

Patronage is normal. The ‘Great and the Good’ have always had moral obligations and philosophical preferences, desiring to use their personal wealth and connections to leverage change in the issues they considered pressing. Charitable activity predates the significant boom generated during the Victorian philanthropic movement. Power through position and influence continue today with our A-list celebs and successful entrepreneurs utilizing their position to create impact and legacy.

The ‘Third Sector’ (anything not public nor private) receives philanthropic and public funds and invests them into delivering activities that create social change. Over the past few hundred years, a professional ‘charity worker’ class has evolved – who implement the strategy desires of the Trustees.

Ultimately, Trustees provide scrutiny. They are legally neutral, overseeing how resources are used in meeting the stated charitable objectives, the shape strategy, support operational delivery team, and manage the Chief Executive.

As a Founder of The Melting Pot, which is both a social enterprise and a registered charity, I’m also on TMP’s Board of Trustees. We understand and manage the complexities of this dynamic within the Board. However, on Postcode Innovation Trust’s Board I am equal to all Trustees, lending my expertise to work out how best to govern and deliver on the Trust’s aims and govern what’s being delivered. As a CEO and practitioner in my day job, I take great joy in my volunteer role – getting engaged and contributing, but without taking home 3 months’ worth of action points at the end of the meeting!

2. How do I make the most impact through my contribution?

Although ‘corporate CSR days’ may get accountants painting walls for the day, the reality is that to be effective we should develop and share our strengths in this life. If you have an area of expertise – leverage and use it. It will be lapped up. Likewise – if you want to stretch your skills and experience in a certain direction, doing so voluntarily is a great place to build your portfolio.

My contribution to Postcode Innovation Trust was to help shape the social investment product and service offering from a practitioner’s perspective. I felt I could help create something that the sector really needs, that fills gaps rather than replicating what’s already out there. My experience is as a social entrepreneur, with over a decade’s experience of the support available. I brought understanding of what I would and would not like to see if I had to take on a loan to build my venture.

3. What will I get in return for my time and effort?

Life is what you make it, so what you put in is what you get out. If you want to make an impact, you have to put in a shift. The minimum requirement, of course, is attending the quarterly board meetings, having prepared in advance, and keeping abreast of news and developments from the delivery team. But going beyond the bare minimum, getting more involved by accepting additional responsibilities, means both you and the organization go further, get more intimate and gain more reward. Only you can judge how much is too much or too little.

The real value of this Trustee position to me, both personally and professionally, was made clear 1.5 years in. We’d shaped the Postcode Innovation Trust’s offering and process and it was being put out to market. I was part of the team meeting and assessing the innovative projects that needed the service we had created. I got to hear from amazing social entrepreneurs about their delivery models and ambitions for scaling impact. I learnt from their experience and their projects while assessing the best place to make investments and generate impact.

4. What will I have to learn about?

The answer will depend on what you already know!

Do you understand about: group decision making; processes for identifying and managing risk; the balance of taking an enabling or supporting role vs doing? So many people are afraid of interpreting finances (no one ever wants to be ‘treasurer’) but a good pragmatic head and a heart that resonates with the core values and objectives of the charity are far more important. Every day is a school day.

For me, I had an unexpected insight into what it would be like to work within a significantly resourced and staffed organisation. People’s Postcode Lottery has grown fast since its launch in 2005 – and their professionalism, enabling attitude and common drive are clear to see. I am impressed. I have enjoyed my interactions with the People’s Postcode Lottery team and family. I’ve met the leaders of amazing social change organizations that have ‘star’ quality and fan within me flames of aspiration: what could TMP be like when it grows up?

5. Am I putting myself at personal risk?

Size, age, and stage matters. Small start-ups inherently feel riskier than bigger organisations with better-developed processes and systems. But actually, there are key risks across all stages: loss of key personnel, ability to pay the bills, building and maintaining a positive reputation. As a Trustee you must be able to demonstrate due care and diligence that is appropriate for the stage of organisation.

Getting involved in non-profit, social change organisation in its start-up stage is like trying to nurture a toddler. But, just as we are shaped by those who cared for us in our childhood, the Trustees that look after young organisations are crucial to them making impact in the future.

Volunteers who muck in and support today’s social innovation Founders and their emerging teams will be doing our grandchildren a great service. Will your name be there when the new and emerging social innovations of today become the household names of the future? Who will come after the likes of Keep Britain Beautiful, WWF, Citizen Watch, St John Ambulance?

6. Just who needs to hear my voice?

If you are NOT ‘male, stale and pale’ – then you are needed!

Of course older, experienced guys are valuable. It’s just that there’s shameful evidence about the lack of equality on Boards at all levels of public, private and Third sector bodies. Check out the 50-50 by 2020 campaign for more info.

To sum up:

Volunteering matters – and it’s not all about painting the local village hall or collecting for the Christmas appeal. So whether it’s for the next 12 months or 12 years, consider getting involved as a volunteer at a strategic-level, use your professional skills as a charity Trustee and make some serious impact.

We are currently looking for a new Trustee at The Melting Pot that can bring HR skills and experience to our board. Is that you? We’d love to hear from you – find out more here.