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Why do so many charity trustees receive no training?

It would be unthinkable to put a crane driver, a teacher or a hairdresser in a similar position

Picture this. (You won’t have to try very hard.)

You join a board of trustees. You receive a few documents: some minutes, an annual report, a couple of leaflets. But otherwise you go along to the first meeting not knowing what to expect.

About two years in, you stumble across an article about the responsibilities of a trustee. “Cripes, most of this is news to me,” you think.

You muddle through the next five years with no training. You do a good job. You’ve got both professional and personal experiences that are useful to the charity.

But how much more impactful could you have been with a decent induction and access to ongoing training and development?

What if your induction had included really getting to know your fellow trustees, learning about the charity’s operations, gaining an in-depth understanding of the changing needs of the charity’s service users?

What if you had understood the charity’s field better, or gained a deeper understanding of safeguarding, or been trained to interrogate the finances more closely?

What if you had learned alongside other trustees about monitoring charitable impact, or about how other charities were digitising their services, or about current trends in fundraising?

Of course, this can’t all be front-loaded upon appointment. We need a lengthy induction (after all, our questions evolve as we get more involved) and then access to ongoing training and development, both formal and informal.

It would be unthinkable to have a crane driver, a school teacher, a marketing director, a social worker, a hairdresser who had received no training.

Indeed, we’d be unlikely to put up with such a lack of induction or training in our day jobs.

And yet, we leave the most senior leaders in the charity sector (that’s us, trustees) high and dry with zero training.

Whether you’re new to the joys of trusteeship or an old hand, ongoing access to training is essential.

All trustees, whatever they do in the rest of their life (lawyer, carer, marketing officer, foster parent, student, retired chief executive, educational psychologist – there are literally no exceptions), should take their ongoing development seriously. It’s part and parcel of wanting to be an effective trustee.

There is absolutely no sector-wide expectation on trustees to undertake any training or development. If you are one of the trustees who has received training, you are very lucky indeed.

We can learn a lot from the expectations placed on board members in other sectors.

Take school governors. Training is expected, widely available and free to governors. A cursory Google search reveals a choice of 29 courses in my county (each with a choice of face-to-face or online learning), plus 40 national online learning modules provided by the National Governance Association.

By comparison, training for trustees (beyond legal responsibilities training, which is widely available) is fragmented, and can be expensive, dull, aimed at trustees of larger organisations, and often not really for trustees at all but for charity staff. There are notable exceptions, of which Getting on Board is one, but the fact remains that there is no co-ordinated national programme of trustee training.

We need training specifically aimed at trustees, which is free, easily accessible and high quality. And we need it now.

Getting on Board is on the case. Are you?

Penny Wilson is chief executive of Getting on Board. Third Sector is a media partner for Getting on Board's Festival of Trusteeship, which takes place between 7 and 11 November

Image by Pavel Danilyuk at Pexels


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