Volunteers and Trustees - A Personal Perspective

“What is the essence of life? To serve others and do good.” - Aristotle

You have to be bold to volunteer. You never quite know precisely what you will be doing or with whom. But it is a choice. They say “Never volunteer for anything”. But only on ‘Dad’s Army’ and ‘It Ain’t Half Hot Mum’. The sentiment rarely seems true in real life, most especially in the face of uncertainty and danger. There were volunteers at Chernobyl and, of course, the RNLI is mostly supported by volunteers. The hordes of ordinary folk - including WSC members - answering the recent NHS clarion call just proves the point.

Choosing to volunteer at the Club is hardly stepping up in a crisis. But it is stepping up to do something for others; to make a positive contribution to our community. And the Club needs a lot of volunteers - just look at the listings on the first few pages of the Handbook, in addition to all the weekly race management roles.

So, why so many? It’s because ‘the Club’ is only a single entity by legal definition and as a convenient label (a bit like ‘the Government’). In reality, it’s a complex confederation of multiple bits and bobs. There are, for example, members, employees, buildings, land, water, moorings, plant and machinery, gizmos and grommets, gubbins, beer, crisps and money. Oh, and there are boats, a sailing programme and some training, youth and social events, too. These, and a lot more besides, all stirred in together, make up the idea of ‘the Club’. Many of the various elements are regulated by laws, rules, agreements and guidelines covering, for example, the charity, employment, health, safety and the environment, data protection, finance, bar licensing, leases, etc., etc. Well, you get the picture. It’s pretty much the same for any organisation, large or small; it’s only the scale that’s different. But to make it function, it all needs to be managed somehow and that’s all done by volunteers, often with little or no previous experience in the field. Like any complex problem though, once it’s broken out a bit into bite-sized pieces, it becomes more digestible: a lot simpler and all very manageable. The volunteers go at it with a will - in all of our names. They mostly work in teams, they give of their best and they make it all plain sailing for the rest of us. They’re quite amazing and often go about our business unnoticed. If there aren’t enough volunteers though, it’s a different story; sailing and Club activities could be reduced or even stopped. Then we’d notice. That’s the reality and it’s not appealing.

With all this in mind, I know that the new Trustees - elected at the last AGM - felt trepidation and uncertainty about their task. I certainly did. In case you were wondering, this is what the Trustees have been up to during the past four months, as just one group of Club volunteers.

First, we had to work out exactly what we’d got ourselves into. So we did some homework. Quite a lot, actually. About charities, the Charity Commissioners, the work of Trustees and our Constitution; about our obligations and responsibilities; about how we could help. We started by making ourselves legal. We completed Declarations of Eligibility and registered ourselves with the Commission. Then we had to work out how to do business together: five individual volunteers and a secretary with no common business or organisational background. So we agreed on a Code of Conduct - how we would approach things; how we would interact; how we would behave. As we developed the document, the individuals learnt a lot about each other, about our thinking and about our complementary skills, and became a team. To me, the Code has been invaluable, always in the background, always there, as a guiding handrail. In consequence, we have become a cohesive, focussed collective acting respectfully, with integrity, as a single body. It may sound obvious, unnecessary, self-evident and even a bit corny, but it’s not. It really helps.

So with the basics in place, what next? Well, we decided our Chair should be appointed on a 3-monthly rotation. This was quite deliberate to ensure there would be no confusion with the position of the Commodore. Rima Bugler took the first watch and now Stephen Homan-Berry is in the Chair. You see? It works, you’ve hardly noticed. And we reviewed and updated the Scheme of Delegation, the formal document delegating responsibility and control of operational matters - the normal running of the Club - from the Trustees to the General Committee. In the Scheme we tried to break out all of the functions necessary to run the Club, almost as an aide memoire, to help define what had to be done, leaving the how to do it, to the General Committee. This has taken some time to get right but it’s very nearly done and will be published soon for all to see.

The Charity Commissioners rightly place great emphasis upon risk management and, given what the Club gets up to, so do we, the Trustees. Given recent global events, we all probably now have a better appreciation of the concept of risk and its manifestations. Like any organisation, the Club faces a myriad of risks to its members, the public, its assets and its reputation. Thus, in line with the Commissioners’ guidance, we have produced a Risk Management Policy, acknowledging the Trustees’ particular responsibilities and recognising that the Club’s risks are borne by the members equally and collectively. This Policy has been agreed with the General Committee and will also soon be published. Additionally, as a mechanism to assist the various committees in the proactive management of risks, a Risk Register has been developed to identify the risks and their potential impacts and to suggest mitigating measures. Many members will be familiar with this commonly-used tool. Scored by a simple traffic light system, it is easily apparent which risks, for example, are ‘Green’ and minimised with adequate controls, and which are ‘Red’, demanding attention and improvement.

Unsurprisingly, the Trustees have paid considerable attention to the Covid-19 crisis and its attendant risks to the Club. As the situation has developed, we have used video conferencing to regularly consider both the short and long term impacts and the Club’s response. This process of continual review, assessment and, where necessary, adjustment, is likely to continue in the coming weeks and months.

We are also now beginning to look ahead and to turn our attention to the Club’s future plans and direction post-crisis. It inevitably involves a bit of crystal-ball gazing but it’s also a practical consideration of how best to use the Club’s money and resources given our aspirations as a sailing Club. There’s a lot to think about so we’ll be seeking your help and views, too.

So, in summary, the volunteer Trustees have been busy learning about the Club and understanding their task, working out how the Club should function as a charity and getting some framework documentation in place. There’s nothing complicated about what we’ve done, it’s just required a bit of time and thought. Along the way, I’ve learnt a lot about myself, my fellow Trustees and about the Club. So far, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and don’t begrudge a single minute of the time. It’s been a really good experience which I can highly recommend. But there are many ways to volunteer and lend a hand at the Club - “to serve others and do good” - anybody can do it and being a Trustee is but one. Jump in somewhere. You may be surprised.

Jim Mitchell

Feedback welcome to: trustees@wsc.org.uk

Minutes of Trustees’ Meetings on the website via Committee Minutes

Submitted on Monday, 20th April