Putting Trustees centre-stage
Actor's Children's Trust (ACT)
“Engaging a Trustee Board in this way requires an air of authority coupled with a knack for diplomacy. David embodies this essential combination – he’s friendly but tough. But it’s his preparation work and interviews with individual participants that really set him apart.”
Robert Ashby, Executive Director, Actors’ Children’s Trust
Actors’ Children’s Trust is a longstanding charity that works to make the acting profession more compatible with parenthood by providing support for actor-parents and their children. It is run by Executive Director Robert Ashby with two staff and a Trustee Board of 15 benevolent actors. Robert was keen to increase the sense of ownership among the Trustees for his strategic plan, in order to give the charity the momentum to move forward with new initiatives and measure the outcome of its actions. But engaging the Trustees from within was proving a challenge.
Robert felt that an external facilitator would provide the impartiality and objectivity required to cajole the Trustees into accepting more responsibility and control, without it becoming personal. He engaged Action Planning Chairman David Saint to run a Strategic Planning Workshop, at which to agree on a Vision and Mission for the charity and a set of strategic objectives, along with consensus on how to pursue them.
Experience has taught us that strategic planning away days work best when participants are interviewed in advance, individually. This enables our facilitators to gather a number of perspectives on what is considered important, and some understanding of where there is likely to be accord and disagreement. Informed by these conversations, we then prepare an agenda for the day. In this case the agenda was agreed in advance with Robert.
At the workshop itself, we run through a strategic planning ‘map’, which illus-us issues get covered. We then facilitate conversations around Vision, Mission and Values and help the group arrive at some clear strategic objectives. Finally we plan and agree a process by which the rest of the plan will get writ-ten.
Our approach of speaking to participants individually succeeded in convincing the majority of the Board to attend the workshop and, once there, they really engaged with it. ACT now has a Vision, Mission and strategic plan up and running, which has brought a hugely positive response. Trustees have been given a new way of thinking, which carries across into small details and has improved the way decisions are made.
We have done quite a bit of work with ‘sector-specific’ benevolent associations, and by definition their Boards are usually strongly skewed towards a particular skill set, as they are usually drawn from one profession. It was great to be able to work with this group of professional actors, who were really keen to engage with good governance and effective strategy, even though, for most of them, these matters were well outside their comfort zone. But ACT is far from unique – it is probably true to say that the majority of charity trustees are having to learn governance skills ‘on the job’. It is a wise Board (and/or CEO) that knows when a bit of external help may be called for.