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Changing the board, supporting the mission

CEO Caroline Taylor explains how Essex Community Foundation transformed their board

Can you tell us about your charity?

Essex Community Foundation provides vital funding to local charities and community groups in Essex through donations from individuals, companies, charitable trusts and public agencies. We strive to be an active foundation and have two current initiatives: a Listening Project to help us improve our grantmaking and we have an Essex mental health pot of money to provide support for marginalised and historically underserved communities .

We also manage funds from wind farms and we have panels of local people who we upskill on how to spend the gains from this on their communities.

How did you find trustees previously?

Historically, when we made appointments from our existing networks, the candidates always had a similar background. They were generally retired. We’ve always had a good gender balance but there were no different social classes and no different ethnic minorities so the diversity pool was pretty limited.

We did a round of open recruitment in 2019-20. While it was really good for us to do open recruitment and we had some gains, it wasn’t completely successful.

Why didn’t it work?

50 percent of people who applied were people we already knew so we weren’t reaching beyond our own network. We still didn't hit any of the characteristics that we wanted to be more representative of our community.

What inspired you to try Getting on Board’s Transform Programme?

Transform was recommended by one of our trustees who’d experienced it with a charity she’d worked with previously. ‘The clue is in the title,’ they told me. They’d had a very powerful experience. Several of their trustees moved on as a result which allowed new ones to join which was a good thing for that particular organisation.

Tell us about your Transform experience

Kathryn and Sophia [the programme trainers] were brilliant. They had our trust and confidence that it was an effective process because they were very knowledgeable. We got solid advice, feedback and suggestions on how to change the language in our adverts and how to distribute to specialist LinkedIn groups. We certainly managed to reach beyond our networks; we got interest from people we’d never heard of.

The trustees had a high level of engagement. We did the work within the session so my involvement as CEO was kept to a minimum. It should be the trustees recruiting their peers not the CEO so the process helped that.

Do you have a key takeaway?

Overall, it very much gave us the understanding that encouraging people from different backgrounds isn’t enough.

The board was very wary of tokenistic appointments so we examined the intersectionality between skill and experience. Transform helped us target our efforts accordingly.

How diverse is your board as a result?

We’ve appointed three new trustees from one round of open recruitment as a result of Transform.

The successful candidates were a mix of people known to us and unknown.

The new trustees all have the skills, knowledge and experience we wanted. One of them is 21 and passionate about their community. They started a non-profit during the pandemic. Finding young trustees had been a big challenge previously. This person found us through our advert with the Young Trustees Movement.

Another trustee is on the advisory group of YTM which is helpful for our work with young people’s organisations. It means we don't just rely on asking [our young trustee] what they think.

What is the ongoing impact of Transform?

All three are first time trustees so that is bringing change to the board culture.

The change to the board will enable us to think about our board culture: how the chair conducts meetings, how we handle inclusion and the involvement of all board members.

I’m expecting the far reaching impact to be around policy and how we might broaden our grant making out. Those trustees will be instrumental in that.

How does a diverse board support your charity’s mission?

35% of orgs we fund each year we are funding for the first time. I’m hoping to see in time that we have engagement with organisations we haven’t had relationships with in the past. Broadening our stakeholder base is a crucial part of that and engaging with a broad base of charities is very important. Having a board of trustees that people feel connected to in some way is important.

Getting on Board's Transform programme runs three times a year. You can find out more here


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