Taylor Root UK Trustee Network: An interview with Clare Bouwmeester

Author Sarah Ingwersen
July 4, 2024

As part of our interview series for our Trustee Network, Taylor Root Partner, Sarah Ingwersen recently spoke to Clare Bouwmeester, Legal Consultant for Fortnum and Mason about her experience as a Trustee for Sophie Hayes Foundation.

What does your charity do?

The Sophie Hayes Foundation is a charity that can help save lives. It gives hope and defends fundamental human rights.

It was established in 2011 by a British female who was originally trafficked to Italy for sexual exploitation. It is unimaginable to think slavery still exists in the world today, let alone in the UK, which surprises a lot of people.

Modern slavery can take many forms including trafficking of people, forced labour and servitude. Victims are often hidden away, may be unable to leave their situation, or may not come forward because of fear or shame. Due to the hidden nature of modern slavery crimes, it is very difficult for the Government to determine the true extent of the problem.

Sophie Hayes Foundation believes everyone has the right to freedom, to learn and to live. It supports females who are living in the UK and who have been victims of slavery.  The charity facilitates employability programmes, skills workshops, coaching, a valuable survivor’s network and so much more.  It also has an important voice, raising awareness, liaising with Government on policy and campaigning to end modern slavery.

What motivated you to become a Trustee of this not-for-profit organisation?

I had been looking for a role encompassing ESG, a more purpose led, part time role; a voluntary opportunity where I could build up expertise within the charity sector and take on more of a corporate governance role. It is important to find the right match, to dedicate your time and resource to a cause you feel passionate about and really believe in. For me, that was Sophie Hayes Foundation.

Modern slavery and the associated laws in England have always been part of my remit and role working as an in-house lawyer at various multinational FMCG companies so I had some exposure to the subject matter from a corporate lens.

One thing that became obvious going from a corporate organisation to a charity; there will never be too much resource in the charity sector. It is more important than ever to dedicate expertise and time to a charitable cause if you can.

The Board of Trustees needs a variety and a balance of different skills and knowledge in the same way a company board would. A lawyer as a Trustee is quite complimentary as the role offers many transferable skills.

  • Acting as an advisor is key and lawyers can offer this professional service coupled with understanding the environment and business context they are advising in.
  • Communication; working with a variety of stakeholders including other Trustees, the executive committee, regulators and external stakeholders.
  • Engaging and influencing; being on the Board of Trustees is an opportunity to freely debate and challenge the strategy and direction of the charity and participate in different committees. For instance, I sit on the Governance and Nominations Committee.
  • Governance: Sophie Hayes Foundation is a charity and a company and therefore, an understanding of the reporting requirements and the statutory compliance obligations for both of these help to guide the Board on requirements such as reporting and filing accounts.

How do you balance your duties as a Trustee with your other professional commitments?

It was one of my biggest hesitations, not knowing and questioning whether I had the time and flexibility to really contribute as a Trustee. I work full time as an in-house lawyer, I have been completing my CGI Company Secretary exams part-time in the evenings, I have 3 children who are aged 5 and under, could I really manage a Trustee role too?!

Like many things in life, there will never be a perfect time. The answer is you never really know exactly how much time you will need to dedicate to your Trustee role but using the interview process to really drill into some key questions around ways of working, flexibility helped.

What gave me huge reassurance very quickly upon meeting the other Trustees, was that everyone was equally as busy with similar demands and restrictions and as a voluntary role, you only ever had a limited amount of time you can give. That’s ok though, what you realise is that people are just so grateful for any time and resource you give.

As a way of working, we are all respectful of each other’s commitments to other things. We try to keep board wide meetings to a minimal, we schedule meetings before and after the working day. We use remote working and keep conversations going on emails and within our committee groups. With board meetings approaching and significant filings such as the annual report it does get more active but it all levels out during other times of the year.

What advice would you give to other General Counsel considering becoming a Trustee of a not-for-profit organisation?

  1. Find a charity that you feel connected to and have a genuine passion to support. You have to really want to dedicate your time even when you are stretched so having the right motivation is key.
  2. Persevere: it takes time to find a charity that might be the right connection and it can be competitive, even with the smaller charities. I utilised my governance expertise and was appointed Trustee and Company Secretary which I think set me apart from other candidates.
  3. You’re never too young to be a Trustee. Similar to being an NED, there is an abundance of expertise and skills you can offer and also use as your own development. It’s a two-way street. There is an exciting trend right now that dispels these myths that a Trustee is something one takes on towards the end of their career or is reserved only for executive professionals.
  4. Network: I’ve met SUCH interesting and impressive professionals I wouldn’t have met otherwise. In person networking is one of my harder challenges right now and managing my time but there are lots of remote opportunities and networks you can join such as Women on Boards.

If you are interested in a Trustee role or are looking to hire a Trustee position, please get in touch with Sarah Ingwersen to find out more.

If you would like to join our Trustee network, find out more here

We want to reiterate that this is not a paid service and forms part of our referral programme, so please do not hesitate to get in touch. 

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