As it’s Trustees’ Week, we thought we’d give you an opportunity to meet one of our board members.
We’ve asked Katharine Danton, who has been on our board since 2010, a few taxing questions about being a Trustee, how Switchback has used her expertise, and a few tips for anyone considering taking a step into charity governance…
What made you choose to become a Trustee of a charity?
I have always cared about social change, and worked in the charity sector for most of my career. One thing that really struck me was how important the role of the board is in helping an organisation truly flourish and achieve its impact.
When I thought I’d built enough skills, I decided I should volunteer as a Trustee for a charity I really cared about.
How did you find out about Switchback, and the opportunity to become a Trustee here?
I was working as a consultant in Crisis UK’s offices, and happened to be sitting opposite the founders of Switchback when they very first started.
Alice and Slaney were a force to be reckoned with. I really admired their gumption, to set up their own charity to help young offenders in the way they felt would work best. Their desire to not only provide practical work experience but also deep, 360-degree mentoring really inspired me.
I believe that the problems we face in society and as individuals are caused by a myriad of factors, all interacting with each other. Hoping a single intervention will solve a problem is admirable, but the truth is: reality isn’t like that. Helping people to work on all aspects of their life to create much-needed stability is more difficult, but ultimately far more impactful.
So I volunteered my time with them to help them get going. I loved every minute of it, and when they approached me to become a Trustee, I was honoured.
How have you used your background and experience to help Switchback to develop and grow?
I have used all aspects of my professional experience to help Switchback – helping to develop evaluation and impact tools; supporting staff recruitment and providing coaching; raising money; putting people in my networks in touch with each other… You’d be amazed at how much you can do for an organisation which is more than just your day job.
Then – of course – there is the contribution you can make at the board meetings themselves. Being slightly removed from the day-to-day operations allows you to take a wider perspective, and ask questions which the management team might simply not have had the chance to think about. You can be supportive to the team when they are unsure of the future, help them to have confidence in their decisions, and occasionally spot a solution they might not have thought of. All this can help any organisation improve both its operations and strategy.
Fundamentally there is something about just being there too. Running a charity is a huge responsibility, and being a Trustee helps share that load.
What do you value about being a Switchback Trustee?
First and foremost, I love what we do. I believe in the model and one of my favourite parts of any board meeting is hearing how the Trainees are getting on.
Then there is the team, the Switchback Mentors and everyone who makes sure the organisation runs beautifully. It’s inspiring to work with such capable and enthusiastic people.
Then the board itself. I have learnt so much from fellow Trustees, and from the wider experience of going through the highs and lows of growing and developing the organisation. It’s an honour to be part of the team.
Being a Trustee has given me a whole new perspective and I would recommend it to anyone who has either lived experience of a cause, or who wants to give some of their professional experience to others. The truth is, you gain way more experience than you’ll realise. Like any volunteering position, you gain as much as you give.
What has been your proudest moment as a Switchback Trustee?
There have been so many – we’ve won awards and thrown parties and gained some incredible partnerships; not least River Cottage, who have been incredible supporters throughout.
The truth is though: my proudest moments as a Trustee have always been when meeting a Trainee who has been through the programme.
Hearing from them what they’ve been through and why it has made a difference – the feeling of having someone look out for them when they needed it most – I’m so chuffed to be part of an organisation that can do that for someone.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of being a Trustee?
Firstly, go for it. You’d be surprised what you can bring to a board. And don’t worry, you don’t need to know everything – that’s why it’s a group of people who make up the team.
Secondly, make the most of it. You’ll learn so much along the way, meet amazing new people and likely make life-long friends.
Finally, and most importantly, go for a cause you really care about. You’ll want to give it your all and that’s exactly what a charity needs.