Helen Kelly, Trustee of Barnardos Ireland

Head of Corporate Banking Origination – Ireland, Barclays Bank

Discovering the Impact of Charitable Organisations through a Board role

“It is much more fulfilling than I originally expected. What is particularly striking is when we visit projects or hear case studies about the impact of Barnardos on children’s lives. This helps put my day job into perspective”.

Why did you choose to take on a voluntary directorship?

Firstly, because I completed my Chartered Director exams at the Institute of Directors in 2014 and I wanted to put my leaning into practice. Secondly, because I wanted to give something back to the Community – I am not very good at painting or gardening, and I wanted to use my professional skills. Thirdly, because I was encouraged and supported by my employer Barclays to do so and that was also very important.

How has your experience differed from what you expected?

It is much more fulfilling than I originally expected and Board discussions can be really interesting. Governance matters are an important agenda item but there are also many strategic decisions to be made that impact on our employees and on the services that we can provide to children and their families. What is particularly striking is when we visit projects or hear case studies about the impact of Barnardos on children’s lives. This helps put my day job into perspective.

Has your professional capacity helped you in this position?

Absolutely. In Barnardos we are lucky to have a very diverse Board comprising of child care professionals, academia and business leaders with expertise in areas such as finance, HR, PR and marketing, but I like to think my commercial and financial skills from banking add real value also.

What have you learnt by being on the board?

I am surrounded by very experienced, sage Directors from both public and private sector backgrounds, all of whom have different perspectives on particular points. The experience of listening to and working closely with others who think quite differently from me is what I am learning most.

What challenges did you encounter whilst being on a board?

Initially the biggest challenge was understanding the services we provide, how Barnardos interacts with service provision from the State and basic sector terminology, so there is a definite learning curve for about a year before you start to have the confidence to contribute yourself. I also joined the Audit Committee and that has also been very useful place to learn what the key risks are and how to mitigate these.

How important was teamwork and collaboration in relation to board effectiveness?

Really important. At its core a Board is a collection of individuals who need to work together for the good of the organisation. Most Barnardos Directors will join a Sub-Committee at some point during their directorship and that fosters even closer working relationships but the ability to collaborate is key particularly as it relates also to the Executive Team.

November 2017