Trustee Stories: Dina Shiloh, Partner at Gallant Maxwell Solicitors

Dina Shiloh, Partner at Gallant Maxwell Solicitors

When did you become a trustee, charity’s name and what does it do?

I became a trustee for the Microloan Foundation in August 2015. The charity helps women in sub-Saharan Africa break the cycle of poverty and set up their own business by providing small loans (average £72), ongoing business training and support.

The charity operates in Malawi and Zambia, and it plans to expand into Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Lesotho by 2018, helping more than 100,000 women and their families.

Why did you become a trustee?

I had some experience of working with charities in the past and worked for the United Jewish Israel Appeal full time for a year after I left university. I’m also a mentor at World Ort.

However, I first thought about becoming a trustee after listening to a talk about a programme called ‘Step on Board’ at my previous law firm, Mishcon de Reya.

Step on Board is a board-level volunteering programme run by Trustees Unlimited and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations. It recruits charity trustees by working with businesses to encourage their employees to become trustees.

I was interested in taking on a trustee role with a charity that had a focus on women. Following the Step on Board programme, Trustees Unlimited approached me with a role with the Microloan Foundation which was the perfect fit for my skills, experience and interests.

How do you make sure you are being effective/ doing a good job – both individually and as a board?

That’s a difficult question. You always hope you are being effective! The main thing for me is to make sure I understood all the rules and regulations, especially given that fact I’m a lawyer.

There is very good guidance about charity governance available online through NCVO, the Charity Commission and organisations like Trustees Unlimited. Anyone thinking about becoming a trustee should read the guidance first and ensure they understand the responsibility the role entails.

On a day to day level, the role is similar to my job; you make sure you are responsive to emails and calls, read and consider thoroughly all the materials you are sent and attend the board meetings having prepared for them.

You can also learn more by understanding more about how the charity delivers its front line services and helps beneficiaries. I had the opportunity to visit Malawi soon after I joined to see the charity’s work in action. It was important for me to see the impact the charity was having on the women out there.

Whilst there I was able to use my background as a journalist (before I became a lawyer) to interview women, make videos and take photographs. I think the charity found this very useful as I was able to record my visit and bring back materials that will help promote our work.

What’s been the best thing about being a trustee so far?

It’s very satisfying to use my professional skills to help people and to be making an impact on the charity. The charity had been looking for a media expert so it’s brilliant to be able to use those skills to help raise the profile of the charity.

I’m also able to use my own contacts and networks to ensure our fundraising events are well attended and encourage new supporters.  Introducing new supporters through my contacts is a very useful way to support the charity.

My legal background has also been helpful and I’ve enjoyed contributing advice when asked including directing the charity on issues such as data protection.

What’s the hardest thing been?

The time commitment can be difficult when you are also working full time. In addition to trustee meetings there are away days that we are expected to attend. Being a trustee is a serious commitment and comes with big responsibilities. I had three interviews for the trustee role; I only had two for my day job!

However, this is a good thing – people need to know it’s not a breeze. You need to show you really want to do it and will take it seriously.  There is no point becoming a trustee unless you can commit the time and energy.

Would you recommend it?

Yes, I would, definitely. Trusteeship is a really good way to gain board experience, particularly for young professionals who would find it very difficult to do so otherwise. And most importantly, it is very satisfying to feel you are using your skills to help others in a very tangible way.