Most people know that charity trustees - of which there are over a million in the UK - have ultimate responsibility for the governance of a charity. What many people don't realise is that it's a role they could carry out themselves as a volunteer. In fact, says the Charity Commission, there are many such myths around volunteering which stop people feeling able to get involved in giving something back to society in a structured way.
"Much of the general public presumes that trustees are experts and that they're paid for their role. But trustees are people like you and me who care about an issue and want to do something about it as a volunteer," explains Amar Sush, spokesperson for the Charity Commission. "And whilst being a trustee is a responsible role - because the buck stops with them - this challenge can make it enormously rewarding and doesn't have to take up a huge amount of time."
Indeed, while in some cases it might be almost a full-time job, in others it involves attending around one meeting a month. This depends largely on the size of the charity and how many other trustees there are. For Anita Green, a trustee of the NSPCC, the time required varies. "Some weeks, I spend four days committed to the role and others I spend one or even none because I have other commitments. The flexibility is what makes it manageable," she says.
Justin Davis-Smith, director of the Institute for Volunteering Research, the research arm of the National Centre for Volunteering, points out that there is a trend towards diversifying trusteeships. "Until now, trustees have tended to be the great and the good, but charities are realising they need a range of skills and backgrounds at this level. The main requirement is enthusiasm and a commitment to the cause - whether it's a local animal sanctuary or an international aid agency."
The idea that contributing skills to charities inevitably takes up mammoth chunks of time is one of the biggest misconceptions about volunteering generally, he says. "Charities understand that people work longer hours than in the past and can't necessarily commit to the same amount of time on a regular basis. That's why there are a growing number of opportunities to help on a one-off or on a flexible ongoing basis."
The same goes for volunteering for the voluntary sector generally - of which charities are a subset - and indeed the public sector, which increasingly welcomes volunteers to complement the work of paid staff to achieve outcomes like higher educational attainment in schools and smaller hospital waiting lists.
Pam Hodgkins, founder and CEO of NORCAP, the charity which supports adults affected by adoption, says their volunteers can give as much or as little time as they choose. And as with most charities, the roles available are increasingly varied. "We divide our volunteers into two groups," she says. "The first comprises people who come into the office to help out with administration, which primarily consists of the local community. Some say they can give a day next week; others give three hours every week. The second group are the service providing volunteers, of which there are three types: the contact leaders who are available for NORCAP members to call up for help; those who help out with research in finding birth relatives; and the intermediaries who assist people in contacting birth relatives."
Hodgkins echoes the sentiment of the majority of charities when she says that without volunteers, NORCAP simply "wouldn't exist and provide a service so badly needed in our society". Meanwhile, the volunteers themselves get out of it the "feel good" factor. But that's not all they gain. "For some of the volunteers in the office, it's a step on the way back into the world of work from being a full- time mum," explains Hodgkins. "For others, it's a way to update skills, gain a reference that …