Since last year, I’ve been volunteering at a helpline called Oxford Friend, providing emotional support and information to the LGBT community in Oxfordshire (those who are aware of my volunteering background are unlikely to find this surprising). More-recently, though, I became a trustee of that charity, and that’s what I thought I’d tell you about.
Every helpline and similar service I’ve volunteered with has had it’s… quirks. They’ve all got their own unique personality and identity, their own strange policies and practices, and Oxford Friend is no exception. One thing that I always found unusual about them – and still do – is the peculiar way they differentiate between trainee and “full” members: once they’re done as a trainee and become a full member, volunteers become trustees of the charity.
At first, this seemed like a lot of paperwork with little benefit, but the idea has grown on me a little. By becoming a trustee, you’re becoming responsible for (and liable for!) the actions of the charity, which should encourage one to have it’s best interests at heart (as if that were ever a concern!). It fosters a sense of ongoing shared responsibility, making a charity that’s less like a corporation and more like a co-operative.
It’s only feasible, I think, because the charity is so small: a few dozen volunteers collectively running a helpline, email service, and providing external outreach and training on LGBT issues. It’s a very communal approach to the management of the operation of the charity, and it seems to work perfectly well: they’ve been running for 30 years now! But I don’t think it would work for a larger charity like either of the Samaritans branches I’ve worked with.
I’ll be interested to see if the addition of my unusual name to the record at the Charity Commission goes to plan (Companies House always seem to have difficulty with it!). But regardless: for now, I’m proud to be able to support Oxford Friend and the remarkably valuable work that they do.
Y’know: in my copious amounts of free time.