Your trustees first day

Last updated: 28th April 2021

Why preparing for the first day is important

There are many things that you can do to help a new trustee prepare for their role and for the first meeting with the rest of the board. In our experience it is especially important to provide support at this stage to build the confidence of those who do not have experience of carrying out a role of this kind, or those who are doing it for the first time in the UK and not in their mother tongue. Providing this support requires time and effort so it would be good to decide in advance who will be responsible for ensuring that it happens.

The induction process

Ideally you will start with an induction process that could include one-to-one sessions with the chair or another trustee, to explain what will happen in the first board meeting and what they will need to do in preparation. This is an opportunity to answer questions and set out what you expect of them.

For example, new trustees may be anxious about how soon they will be expected to contribute to discussions so this would be a chance to reassure them. You could offer new trustees the opportunity to observe a meeting before they formally join. Among those we spoke to, some Expert trustees were allocated a mentor from among the other trustees for a period of up to a year, which they found really helpful. Others were offered training on subjects like the structure of meetings and decision making.

Providing background information

Provide all the essential documents that the new trustee will need well in advance of the first meeting. The documents should be brief, written in plain English and include visual materials where possible. Consider providing hard copies or offering facilities to print them out, as covering printing costs can be unaffordable for those on a limited income.

The documents could include:

  • a brief history of the organisation, current structure and staffing
  • strategy, current projects and budget of the organisation
  • governance and other legal documents
  • minutes of the previous three board meetings
  • an agenda for the next meeting and any relevant documents
  • names, photos and roles of the other trustees

Other background information provided by the Chair, mentor, or via an induction pack, could include a briefing on how meetings are run, for example conventions and particular words used, use of an agenda, how decisions are made etc. 

Showing support

 Expert trustees told us that they welcomed receiving background information and other documents but some said that they found them overwhelming. Mentors were able to help them review the documents and process the information, and could also answer any questions that arose.

If a mentor is not available, it is important to provide the name and contact details of someone for new trustees to reach out to for help with the initial information overload and practical support. This might include organising travel to get to the meeting, claiming expenses, printing documents or resolving internet access issues. This could be a member of staff of the organisation, or a fellow trustee. This will help to reduce anxiety and allow the person to approach the first meeting with confidence.

Helping with information overload

 Expert trustees told us that they welcomed receiving background information and other documents but some said that they found them overwhelming. Mentors were able to help them review the documents and process the information, and could also answer any questions that arose.

If a mentor is not available, it is important to provide the name and contact details of someone for new trustees to reach out to for help with the initial information overload and practical support. This might include organising travel to get to the meeting, claiming expenses, printing documents or resolving internet access issues. This could be a member of staff of the organisation, or a fellow trustee. This will help to reduce anxiety and allow the person to approach the first meeting with confidence.

Holding your first meeting

Anyone starting a new role will be anxious - not knowing what to expect, wanting to make a good first impression, hoping to connect well with new people, not knowing if you will have anything in common with them.

For those whose main connection with your organisation (or other similar one) has been as a service-user or volunteer, the transition to the role of trustee can be quite intimidating. Whatever preparation you have been able to do, it is worth thinking carefully about how to manage the first meeting, to reduce anxiety and provide a warm welcome to your new trustee.

The Experts we spoke to made the following suggestions:

Be welcoming

Make sure someone is there to meet the new trustee, whether in a physical or virtual space. An informal social lunch before the meeting would be ideal, to allow people to introduce themselves and start to get to know each other in a relaxed way.

Explain everything

Give background information and explain each point before you discuss it. Check with new trustees that they understand what is being discussed - don’t assume that people know what you are talking about!

Use plain language

Avoid jargon and abbreviations that people will not understand and use plain English!

Be an active chair

Make sure that everyone can participate in the meeting, that their contributions are heard and welcomed, and that discussion is not dominated by a small number of confident people.

Set up an expenses system

Make sure that you have consistent systems and processes for dealing with expenses that don’t single people out and where they don’t have to ask or remind you.

Debrief and follow up

Check in during and after the meeting to give people the opportunity to ask questions or express concerns, and to check on their understanding of the discussion and the content of the meeting. Offer more support if needed.

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