It felt like 2018 was the year of the side hustle. People genuinely inspired about expanding their experience, people desperate to finally get that idea off the ground and make it happen, people desperate to earn a second wage. We all had our motivations.
My motivation was slightly different. Royal Tunbridge Wells is a vibrant hub of creativity, networking and talent. I am a member of the RTW Media Meet Up which now has over 90 active members who meet every 3 months. A now good friend of mine through the group Pedro said to me one day….I think you would make a really good trustee at a charity and I know just the person who needs your skills and experience to help the charity grow. I was curious.
Fast forward 11 months and I have now been a trustee of the national grass roots charity The Hygiene Bank for nearly a year. A big part of my personality type is enjoying not knowing what you’re walking into and I was given that in spades by coming on board. The charity had only been going for 4 months, was essentially a boot strapped start up and was scratching the surface of a real hidden crisis in the UK.
The Hygiene Bank is a national, grassroots charity grounded in community. Its passion stems from a sense of injustice: it’s not right that anyone should face hygiene poverty. Galvanised by the belief that everyone deserves to feel clean, the charity gives hygiene, beauty & personal care essentials to people in need.
60% of people in poverty across the UK are classified as the “working poor”. Being in poverty 20 years ago meant you were signing on and were not very motivated to reclassify your position. In the 21st century being in poverty means you have a job but it only takes one shock to push a family into poverty (think MOT to pay, funeral, divorce). This “generalized insecurity” (Wuyts, 2006) is a feature of developing countries, and is now a characteristic of poverty in the UK
And as I got further and further into what the charity could offer, read reports centred around poverty, met game changing people who had achieved so much with food banks, period poverty etc, I was staggered at the scale of the crisis the 5th richest country in the UK is facing.
Essentially, hygiene poverty is everywhere from children to working citizens to the elderly and I felt compelled to go on this quest to do something about it.
The operating model is centred around the power of the people within communities. Some kind hearted person becomes aware of The Hygiene Bank, quickly searches to see if there is a project in their area and if there isn’t sets one up. They grow their local network of volunteers with products being donated in local drop off locations, these are then collected, sorted and then distributed to charity partners in that local community eg Women’s refuge, YMCA, schools etc.
In our first 12 months of being a national charity, we have made some huge strides forward as trustees and most importantly from our volunteer network.
Being a trustee has certainly challenged me in many ways over the last 12 months, I have gained a number of new skills, met some amazing people who have truly inspired me. If you are looking to add something new to the paid job then I would thoroughly recommend considering being a trustee and here are my top 5 learnings to help you on the way.
RISK RISK RISK
I had no idea of the risks involved in strategically steering a charity to national growth. You have to pre-empt risk at every level from safeguarding to supply chain to revenue. I have certainly learnt a lot from the other trustees as we have strategized around risk, created risk registers and see it as an ongoing process. As the charity scales, new risks present themselves and it is hard to always be thinking what could happen.
SLOW, FAST, SLOW
The pace you have to work out is challenging. I have a paid job and act as trustee in my own time. As the charity is national and volunteer based you can’t predict where the need will come from that drives your own work streams. We have an annual strategic plan which each of the trustees is responsible for certain pillars but you also then have the unexpected to address. Having the ability to adapt as and when the need arises is a real skill.
IT CAN’T ALL BE FOR FREE
We are essentially a boot strapped start up until we start to raise significant funds through corporates, grants and trusts. To put it bluntly, we can’t pay anyone (yet). We are a volunteer driven organisation and people generously give their time to build the charity. But we need to make things….websites, marketing collateral, event material, balloons, badges, buckets, PR exposure. The list builds quickly and you need to use your network so pull in some favours but use them wisely as you might only get one shot at it.
DON’T GET EMOTIONALLY INVESTED
This is much easier to say rather than do. I found myself getting deeper and deeper into the personal stories people were telling us. We conducted research nationally with schools and the real life stories were harrowing…..1 child had a full set of milk teeth extracted in A&E due to tooth decay from not being able to brush their teeth, 1 mother couldn’t afford head lice for her 5 year old girls so the mother shaved all of her daughters hair off, 1 father who works for a consulting firm was sleeping in his car whilst going through a divorce and was going to work smelling, his colleagues were less engaged with him, it affected his mental health and self confidence….the list goes on and on. But you mustn’t let the stories distract and affect you. You have to turn those real life stories into energy and determination as a trustee. With all of the trustees and our amazing volunteer network, all pulling in the same direction, we can make great things happen and give people the chance to feel human again.