60-second interview with Mark Ashton

Mark Ashton, 28/6/2019

Mark Ashton is a Senior Associate at Mills & Reeve LLP in Cambridge.

What does your firm or organisation do?

Mills & Reeve is a national law firm, and among the 50 largest in the UK. We act for over 250 charities of varying shapes, sizes and sectors, providing advice on all areas of law, including governance and charity law regulation, property, HR and pensions, banking, contracts and disputes. Some of our better-known charity clients include the British Council, English Heritage, BBC Children in Need and the Institution of Engineering and Technology.

What do you think are the main challenges facing charity trustees at the moment?

Many of the issues which are causing real concern in the sector can be traced back to the squeeze on funding, and these include questionable fundraising practices and reserve levels, how to diversify income streams to cover core costs (often leading to innovative investment/trading ventures), and potential insolvencies or necessary cost cuttings, which often lead to mergers.

The other key challenge is meeting the constantly increasing level of regulation, whether that be from the Charity Commission, Companies House, the Fundraising Regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office, Care Quality Commission (CQC) and others. It can seem like governance overload at the moment!

Those charities with trustees and staff which have a good business pedigree and are able to find ways to diversify their income, are riding out the storm better than others.

How do you think The Informed Trustee helps?

The Informed Trustee is a great course for anybody new to, or in need of a refresher of, the charity sector. It has been produced by some of the best professional advisors of charities in the UK, and brings together all the important basics that any person involved in the operation of a charity (either as a trustee volunteer or employed staff) should be aware of.

How are you involved with the course?

My colleague Tori Spratt and I have written the England and Wales sections of Modules 2 and 4.

Are you involved with any charities yourself?

I am a charity trustee of my local hospice.

Have you ever been a charity trustee?

I have been a trustee of the hospice for about a year now. Due to job demands and my personal situation I was unable to commit to be a trustee until last year, but now I am involved, I am loving every minute. Being part of such a special organisation which makes a big difference in the community is really fulfilling.

What would you say to a young person thinking of taking on a charity trustee role?

It does require a time commitment, so you must be sure you are willing and able to give that. If so, just go for it! Find a charity which is close to your heart, and write to them.

From my experience, there are a few stuffy old charity trustees out there who think unless you’ve been in business for 20 years then you have nothing to offer. It is a ridiculous opinion, and those charities unfortunate enough to have people like that on the board rarely succeed. So if you meet that attitude, dust yourself off and keep searching for a forward-thinking charity that will embrace your skills and knowledge, no matter what your age. After all, those are the charities that make the real difference.

Which social media channels do you use?

I am slowly finding my way on Twitter, and my handle is @markcharitylaw – tweet me!