Lessons Learnt from 13 Years as Glasgow Chair of the Wooden Spoon Charity

With so many of our clients and candidates exploring the prospect of making a difference, and enhancing their careers and lives by volunteering as Trustees or Non-Executive Directors in the Not for Profit sector; our CEO, Jamie Livingston shares his personal learnings and insights as he passes on the baton after 13 very enjoyable (and occasionally stressful!), years as Regional Chairman of the Wooden Spoon in Glasgow.


Find a Cause Close to your Heart

When taking on a voluntary role as a trustee or committee member, it is generally true that the time commitment on paper and the time required in reality are not exactly the same. Consequently, my advice is to make sure you join a cause that really speaks to your heart, and ideally one that operates within communities of shared interest – you’ll likely be spending more time involved than you sign up for!

For me, the Wooden Spoon was a perfect fit; bringing together the rugby and business communities to raise funds to support disadvantaged young people in the local area. Any charity that fits the criteria can apply for a grant (see website for more details). This normally ranges from £5,000 to £50,000, and it has been an honour to support so many amazing charities with much needed funding over the years.


Surround Yourself with Great People

My late father gave me lots of great leadership advice; one of the most pertinent lessons was to identify what needs to be done, work out what you are good at (and do it), and surround yourself with talented people who are good at the stuff you are not so good at.

I hope he will be glad that I heeded at least one piece of his advice in this regard!

Our successes over the years at the Wooden Spoon could only have been achieved with the support from the amazing people I have been fortunate enough to serve alongside on the Committee, my tireless support team at the Livingston James Group, our incredibly generous sponsors and table hosts, and our amazing MCs and speakers over the years.

I owe a significant debt of gratitude to them all.


Think About Personal Development

Whether you are getting a broader strategic view of a whole organisation (beyond your area of functional expertise), you are gaining insight into how to bring people from different functions and backgrounds together to make decisions, or you are being pushed outside your comfort zone in a fundraising context; opportunities to learn should always be at the core.

Finding ways that your voluntary role can enhance your day job is what makes it sustainable in the long run, so whether it is personal development or cross pollination of business and charity networks, my advice is to be proactive in searching for these opportunities if you want to have longevity and sustained impact in the role.

Speaking personally, I think you really have to learn leadership when chairing a group of volunteers, as you are always asking for discretionary effort. I hope this has helped hone my leadership skills in business as well as for the charity, and there is no doubt that the cross-pollination of networks has been hugely beneficial for both organisations.


Have a Succession Plan

As I said at the Wooden Spoon Glasgow dinner last month, when the time comes to hand the baton on, you ideally want to find someone who is passionate about the cause, has a bold vision for the future and has the leadership skills to take the team onto bigger and better things…

….and in the absence of those things, you just need someone foolish enough to take it on!

In Al Kellock, I am very confident we have the former list incredibly well represented. Al’s support of the charity as a player, on the committee after he retired, and his considerable leadership credentials both on and off the pitch, make him an ideal new chair. I look forward to supporting him as he takes the committee forward.


Keep an Eye on ‘What Next’

Once it was clear to me that Al would be taking over as chair (a pre-covid decision believe it or not), I started to explore ‘what next’. With the Wooden Spoon giving me high-level insight into many different charities on a project-by-project basis, I wanted to find a single charity where I could focus my attention and hopefully make a difference over a sustained period of time.

Having long admired the work and impact of Columba 1400, I had mentioned to their CEO that I would be looking for something in the near future and if she thought she could find a use for me to let me know. She was kind enough to connect me to their Chair, who I am delighted to say invited me to join the board as a Trustee.

I have been on the board for a little while now and continue to be blown away by the impact the organisation has on the lives of the young people we support and the key adults in their lives. I am still learning the ropes in terms of being a Trustee vs a more hands-on exec, but there are some great people to learn from and the work the organisation is doing provides all the motivation needed to keep learning.

If you are considering a voluntary role as a Trustee or Non-Exec, I would wholeheartedly recommend it; but remember to find a cause close to your heart, surround yourself with great people, think about personal development, have a succession plan and keep an eye on ‘what next’.


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