Trustees Week 2021 – hear from ACF’s Siofra Healy on why she became a trustee

01 November 2021

As part of trustees week 2021 (1-5 November), ACF trustee Síofra Healy describes how she became a trustee and what being a trustee at ACF involves.

How did you become a trustee?   
I was approached by my foundation (Community Foundation Northern Ireland) to go forward for nomination to become a trustee of the Association of Charitable Foundations (ACF). ACF at the time were proactively seeking broad representation from members on the board including from those outside of England. 

What interested you in becoming a trustee?   
In Northern Ireland, many charitable funders engage with ACF and for many UK trusts and foundations,  Northern Ireland is an important and strategic region.  I believe it is important to have a diverse board with input, experience and voice from grass roots foundations represented at ACF. The opportunity to contribute to discussion, strategy and governance from a Northern Ireland perspective interested me. The leadership role that ACF plays in inspiring and supporting foundations to be ambitious and effective also inspired me to get involved and working for an independent charitable trust in Northern Ireland and as a member of other local networks such as the Northern Ireland Funders Forum, Philanthropy Ireland and UK Community Foundations, I could see connections and wanted to make a contribution. 

What does your role as a trustee involve? 
Apart from regular trustee meetings where decisions are made, there are opportunities to get further involved as a trustee at committee level and in specific areas of ACF’s strategic priorities - that could be about input into policy, stronger foundations, equality diversity and inclusion and/or climate change. Most recently, the board and leadership team at ACF came together to begin the next phase in our strategic plan. 

What qualities do you think are important for those in a trustee role? 

I think it’s important to be aligned personally with the values and purpose of the organisation where you are a trustee.  As in any leadership position, knowledge and experience of a particular skill, appropriate area of work or profession can also be important qualities. I am also a Trustee of Bryson Care, a large social enterprise in Northern Ireland and having worked in hospice care and business development for many years I contribute to the Bryson Care strategy and governance. As an advocate and/or ambassador for others, whether that is a cause, area, member, beneficiary or an issue you also need to be willing and able to contribute to meetings, discussions and specific areas of work as a trustee. Making decisions together and collectively is part of a trustee’s role and the ability to see the bigger picture and think strategically is an essential quality.

What challenges do you face as a trustee? 
The challenges faced can be around big picture stuff and in discussions and decision making, ensuring I am considering a wider context and a supportive challenge, often in areas where I’m not an expert. 

What is your favourite part of being a trustee?
I enjoy having the opportunity to input into the direction of ACF and the hugely important role it plays for and with foundations in Northern Ireland and across the UK. My favourite part is the connections I can make and the lightbulb moments I get when meeting and working with others through ACF.  

How, if at all, does your trustee role enable you to engage with policy?
ACF proactively takes a lead on policy issues affecting trusts and foundations and as a trustee I engage on policy issues regularly. Recent examples include responding to the commission on race and ethnic disparities and climate change. I also engage with policy direction in Northern Ireland which can be different to England and Wales and I feed these anomalies into ACF at board level.  

How have you been able to demonstrate the value your knowledge and experience brings to the table as a trustee? Could you please give an example of your personal impact on the board?
As a trustee based in Northern Ireland and with experience outside of England, I have added value to the ACF board, most recently as we begin our strategic review and plans for the future. Working in Northern Ireland and within networks and policy making forums here, I have also promoted and advocated for ACF, adding value to ACF's mission here in Northern Ireland. 

For those who may be interested in taking on a trustee role, what would you say they should be looking for in adverts/postings about these roles?

An advert that is clear about the role, what's involved and who they are looking for is very helpful. Look for the skills required, constituencies or particular gaps to be filled and any challenges faced. Postings should also clearly highlight the organisation’s purpose and values, people and plans so that potential applicants can identify with the organisation. 

What tips would you give to those looking to find the right trustee position for them?
I would firstly think about why you want to be a trustee and what you want to achieve. Look for organisations, causes or issues you are interested in or passionate about and think about why and how you might make a difference. There are numerous opportunities to become trustees of charitable organisations, some elected, some appointed and many that have difficulty finding the right people. If there is a particular organisation you are interested in, become a member, engage with them, let them know about your interest. Research what's involved in terms of responsibility, time and commitment, how decisions are made and apply to be a trustee if appropriate.   

This blog post is also on the Peridot partners website. ACF works with Peridot to produce our annual salary and benchmarking report, available to ACF members who participate in the survey.