Trustee Interview – Robert Powell

Name Rob Powell

Charities: Heart of the City and Special Olympics GB

Bio – Personal and professional experience and passions

Rob Powell is Head of Pro Bono & CSR in the London office of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, an international law firm. He manages the full breadth of the London office’s award-winning Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme.

In his spare time, Rob enjoys running marathons to raise funds for charity; writing, recording and performing music; and recently published his first children’s book. He lives in Hertfordshire with his wife and two children.

Tell us about your charity – what are your aims?

Heart of the City (HotC) offers a two-year training programme specifically tailored for business leaders to equip them with the tools and knowledge to put responsible behaviour at the heart of their business.

Special Olympics GB (SOGB) provides year-round sports training and competition for 10,000 people each year with intellectual disabilities across England, Wales & Scotland.

Q&A Questions

  1. How long have you been a trustee?

I’ve been a trustee of both charities since early 2016.

  1. What made you want to become a trustee?

I’ve volunteered for a number of charities in a variety of roles for a long time. Prior to becoming a trustee at SOGB and HotC, I was a member of the development board for both charities. In hindsight, this experience proved to be a fantastic stepping stone to becoming a trustee. It felt like a natural step to join the board and help two charities that I feel passionate about.

  1. Why did you want to support charities in disability sport and economic development?

I’d been supporting both charities since 2011. HotC’s mission is to help companies develop responsible business practices which aligns perfectly with my day job. I came into contact with SOGB in 2011 via my previous law firm when they selected them as their charity partner. I was immediately hooked and haven’t looked back since.

  1. Did you know much about this charitable cause before you became involved as a trustee?

Yes, see above.

  1. What do you feel trusteeship adds to your personal and professional development?

Lots! I’m a firm believer that people ‘learn by doing’ and I always say that becoming a trustee is like doing an MBA – you get a bird’s-eye-view of an organisation and learn so much about strategy, risk, operations, people, culture, finances, managing and influencing stakeholders etc. It also provides life balance, it’s important to have a portfolio of experiences in your life which complement one another. It also broadens your professional network – you will find some of the most interesting and experienced people sitting on charity boards from a range of backgrounds who you can learn from.

  1. What value have you been able to add to your charity with your personal and professional experience?

My CEOs and Chairs would be better placed to answer! I think I add an alternative perspective in the decision making process, lots of ideas, long-term thinking, insight into corporates/CSR. More importantly, I treat both roles as like a full-time job, in that I’m always advocating for both charities when I’m talking to people and consequently making connections when appropriate.

  1. What do you think is the biggest challenge currently facing charities?

Beyond the turbulent economic and political landscape and the challenges which have been well documented in some quarters of press, I think the charity sector has a tremendous opportunity to bring together a divided society. In order to do this, charities should be more vocal around the issues that are pertinent to their beneficiaries. A good starting point is to have a beneficiary as a board member. I’m pleased to say that both of my charities have board members who are beneficiaries. All charities should do this as matter of diversity but also to focus their mission and ensure that the people they support have a voice at the very top of the organisation to help shape the charity’s work. This obviously wouldn’t work with animal charities of course!

  1. What would you say are the important attributes a trustee should have?

As someone who is naturally fairly vocal, after almost three years as a trustee I’ve learnt that the most important skill of all is to be a good listener and to read the room – so in my opinion the most important attribute a trustee should possess is emotional intelligence. Further to this, and what comes with maturity, and what I’m learning as a result of being surrounded by incredible trustees, is the ability to know when to ask the right question/make a point at the right moment to steer the decision making process along. Finally, it’s very important that all trustees remember that they are representing their charity 52 weeks a year – it’s far more than just attending the meetings.

  1. If you could give one piece of advice to someone thinking about becoming a trustee what would it be?

Look for vacancies for a charity/social issues that you are a passionate about, or at best interested in. This is not crucial but it will definitely help you get to grips with the role in the early stages. Becoming a charity trustee is a significant commitment and shouldn’t be under-estimated but it’s undoubtedly one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life.