Trustee Interview – Laura Solomons

Name: Laura Solomons

Charity: The Peter Minet Trust

Bio – Personal and professional experience and passions

Laura is Head of Donor Relations at The Sutton Trust, and a Trustee of the Peter Minet Trust. She has previously held roles at Anthony Nolan, Scope and School-Home Support, with a focus on building charity-corporate partnerships. She studied philosophy of religion, which is where she first came to understand relationships as being at the heart of meaningful experience. Laura is passionate about exploring interesting and creative ways to connect donors to the causes they care about and show them the difference they have brought about.

Tell us about you charity – what are your aims?

The Peter Minet Trust aims to improve the quality of life for people living in South East London, by making grants to UK registered charities.

Q&A Questions

  1. How long have you been a trustee?

Since August 2015, so it’s been around 3 years and 2 months now.

  1. What made you want to become a trustee?

I felt that as a fundraiser by profession, it was important to understand decision-making at a strategic governance level. As a young Trustee, under the age of 30, I wanted to build my ability to interact with people with different backgrounds and learn from them. I hoped to broaden my experience and also be able to contribute my perspective as a young woman working in the charity sector.

  1. Why did you want to support a charity in (insert sector)? E.g. Arts/International/Animals. 

When I started looking for Trustee roles, I was conscious that as a fundraiser I didn’t want to join a charity that was too similar to my day job in terms of cause area. I realised that joining a grant-giving organisation would be ideal for me – I would be able to get a better insight into how decisions are really made about charitable spending, and also share my knowledge of the challenges faced by fundraisers. I was very lucky that the Peter Minet Trust were looking to diversify their Board ahead of a strategic review – it felt like the perfect time to join.

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

I didn’t know much about the Peter Minet Trust, but I was aware of the general landscape of grant-giving organisations. When I did my research ahead of applying, I saw that they had given to several charities whose work I really admire. I liked that the Peter Minet Trust is focused on place-based giving (in South London) and also that they were ready to start questioning how and why they give out funding. Since I’ve joined them, I’ve actually moved into the area, which means that several of the organisations they fund are around the corner from me and I can see first-hand the impact on the community.

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

I feel being a Trustee adds a huge amount to my personal and professional development – decisions are made by committee so it’s been really important to learn when to speak up and when to sit back and listen to the viewpoints of others. The other Trustees and our Director have brilliant knowledge – about volunteering, about policies and processes, about the local area, about the history of the Trust – so there’s been a lot to learn.

It’s been fascinating going through the process of a strategic review – from the research phase through to preparing for launch. Being a Trustee has also made me stop and think about how decisions are made as to which organisations to give funding to – it’s usually the applications that have a good mix of evidence around the need, a clear solution and personal stories that do well. When I’ve written funding applications since becoming a Trustee I’ve often asked myself: how would I feel reading this and does anything about this stand out to me from 40+ other funding applications?

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

I am really proud to have been able to share the thoughts and experiences of my colleagues working as fundraisers in the third sector during the strategic review – I’ve been an advocate for larger, multi-year, unrestricted grants which are like gold-dust for charities. I’ve shared how much time it takes to fill in lengthy application forms and so we’ve looked at how we can build a new application process that is less resource-intensive, especially for those charities without full-time fundraisers. We’ve also been talking about how we can support local, grassroots organisations that might not have impact-measurement frameworks to show the difference they are making by talking to them about the best way to report on their work. My hope is that these changes will make a big difference to those trying to secure funding and that we can work in closer collaboration moving forwards, addressing the power imbalance between funders and charities as best as possible.

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

One of the biggest challenges for charities is that there is such huge competition for funding, and that even when they secure funding it’s often restricted or short-term, making it difficult to plan ahead. This challenge cannot be underestimated and if there’s anything that’s keep charity sector staff up at night it’s how they are going to continue to carry out their vital work when their funding runs out.

I also think there’s a big challenge around diversity – how can we best ensure that someone who relies on support from the charity sector is able to have their say in the best way to design and deliver programmes intended for them. More work needs to be done on accessing and amplifying their voices.

I’d also say the role of digital is going to become an increasing challenge as more of our day-to-day experiences become automated and personalised online – many charities simply don’t have the resource to reach people where they expect to be reached. Of course, lots of people don’t and can’t access the internet, so charities will still be there for them. But it will limit what charities can do if they can’t afford to innovate their services and have a digital offering.

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

Curiosity and the ability to ask the right questions, attention to detail (there’s often a lot of reading to do ahead of meetings) and good communication skills.

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

Definitely do it – it’s been and continues to be a fantastic experience. My hope is that more grant-givers will welcome young fundraisers onto their Board…