Charities need to do more to encourage trustees from a wider range of ages, backgrounds and communities, but many charities struggle to know how to do this
There are about a million smashers in the UK serving as trustees. We should be proud of our immense efforts.
However, would we like some help on our boards?
Do we need easier access to the skills, knowledge and experience our organisation needs?
Would we like to make better decisions, following constructive debate of a range of options borne out of multiple relevant experiences?
Do we think it’s important that people with lived experience of what we’re trying to tackle are alongside us, working out whether our services are the right ones?
And might we like to be able to be able to leave our trustee role one day?!
Recent research by the insurance firm Ecclesiastical reported that 79 per cent of trustees agree that charities need to do more to encourage trustees from a wider range of ages, backgrounds and communities. But many charities struggle to know how.
So, what stops people becoming trustees? Here are a few of the biggest barriers.
I don’t know what a trustee is
The biggest obstacle to people becoming trustees is that they simply don’t know about it.
When I was growing up, no one around me was a trustee. I grew up in a community with a strong ethos of helping other people, whether through formal volunteering or doing something for a neighbour.
But I didn’t hear the word “trustee” until I started to work in charities. And if I hadn’t have gone to work in the voluntary sector, I don’t know when I would have first heard of trusteeship.
I’ve never seen any adverts for trustees
The fact that an estimated (and pitiful) 10 per cent of trustee vacancies are ever advertised exacerbates the fact that most UK adults don’t really know what a trustee is. And when we do advertise, we’re not usually very imaginative in reaching people who might have exactly the expertise we need, but don’t know that trusteeship is even an option.
People like me don’t become trustees
This impression is formed by looking at who is currently a trustee. Two-thirds of trustees are aged over 50, two-thirds are male, 92 per cent are white, 75 per cent are from households above the national median for household income.
This isn’t a criticism of current trustees who pour heart and soul into their roles, but let’s not keep the wonders of trusteeship so close to our chests.
The sense that trusteeship is a club to which normal people don’t belong is also formed by looking at trustee adverts, which are often ridiculously exclusive (“we need an exceptional senior legal and finance professional with solid credibility and extensive governance experience”), dull (nothing whatsoever about this extraordinary chance to make a difference), and legalistic (liabilities, responsibilities, regulations).
What’s that sound? Oh, it’s just the deafening noise of thousands of potential trustees running for the hills.
I don’t have the time or money
We make it impossible for many people to become trustees. We have meetings during working hours, we don’t routinely pay expenses, we don’t provide training, and we don’t tend to ask our trustees what might help them participate.
A charity chief executive recently shared that he’d asked a trustee why they spoke little at meetings. The answer was that they couldn’t afford wi-fi, so were dialing in from a church which was very quiet, so they felt they couldn’t speak. This example is gutting in the brutality of just how easy it is to fix.
Indeed, what is striking (and, I think, exciting) about these barriers is that we can do something about every single one of them.
You can read how in Getting on Board’s free guide How to diversify your charity’s board.
Penny Wilson is chief executive of Getting on Board. Getting on Board's free guide How to Diversify your Charity's Board is available to download now
This article originally appeared in Third Sector.