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What on earth is being a Trustee of the Students Union?

board of trustees board of trustees

What on earth is being a Trustee of the Students Union?

When I stood to be a full-time officer I didn't have the wildest idea what being a Trustee of the Students’ Union meant or even what a Trustee was. I'm sure it was mentioned to me at some point but it really wasn't at the top of my mind, working out how to make students time at Sussex better was... 

But it's week five. We have our second Trustee meeting and turns out being a Trustee is hella important and can make students time at Sussex better.

In my mind Trustees are like school governors (although this is not quite accurate) and the phrase “take off your officer hat and put on your Trustee hat” is often thrown around. This is referring to the times where I stop being a representative of the student body and become someone who is legally responsible for the financial security, legal compliance and good running of the organisation (a little bit petrifying for a recently graduated 21-year-old).

Trustees are not be involved in the day to day affairs, but take an overview of how the Union is performing, both financially and in delivering services to students.

There are twelve Trustees (although not all 12 of these people have been in the same room since I've started...) the six full-time elected officers; three elected students; and three Trustees appointed for their specialist knowledge in areas such as law and finance to provide independent expertise (one of these appointed Trustees was President of the Students’ Union in 1976!). 

So there are 12 people who meet a couple times a year to make sure the SU doesn't get sued, go bankrupt or go rogue. Great right, you're all probably thinking no sh*t obviously organisations need good governance, but what impact does that actually have on students and why would any student care at all that any of this happens.

The way Sussex Students’ Union is structured (like many others in the county) means it has two branches; democracy and governance (see diagram). Most students will only ever see the democracy side and for good reason, it's the only bit that directly affects them. But logistically to run an organisation you need governance structures. Especially when that organisation has 50 full-time and part-time staff, 10 graduates staff and 260 student staff employed to do drastically different things from pulling pints to running a letting agency.

You need people to oversee the organisation as a whole to make tough decisions about where money is spent without your personal priorities getting in the way. Some of these people need to be experts with experience of running a large charity who do not work at our SU. But some of these people also need to be students to bring student opinion to the table and make sure that when the SU makes a decision, it is in the best interest of students. I am by no means an expert in reading budgets or deciding the strategic vision of the SU but I can ask questions from a students perspective and shape the Union to have students at the heart of everything we do. 

I'm not even sure if this is the very best way to do things, but it's what we have to work with right now. Wouldn't it be cool if the student body could input into how the budget is set (with some restrictions, take a deep breath finance department) and be more clued up on what happens here as well as the fact that you guys you could run to be a student Trustee!

If you have got this far I hope I haven't bored you to death. My aim in writing this is to get more students aware of what goes on in the SU, more students thinking about how we can make it better and ultimately shine a light on an important part of being an Officer.


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