Do your trustees reflect the community you service? Do they have the skills, experience and perspectives that your charity needs to provide strong, well-rounded leadership?
Despite the growing focus on diversity most charities continue to recruit in an opaque, and often ineffective, way. Our goal is to try and make board recruitment better. Working with partners, we are building an online set of resources (guidance, stories, tips, reflections, tools) designed to tackle both the practical constraints of recruitment as well as some of the deeper rooted cultural issues.
The problem with how trustees recruit trustees
In 2017, the Charity Commission undertook some comprehensive research into trusteeship. It found that boards are disproportionately white, older, wealthier and male, and a staggering 71 per cent of trustees are recruited by ‘informal’ methods.
This matters, most obviously because if trustees only recruit through their own networks, boards will continue to be drawn from a narrow group. But also because how you recruit someone sets the tone for their engagement: a tap on the shoulder sets it up as a cosy favour rather than a formal strategic role, and creates a very different set of expectations about the role.
Recruitment is of course only part of the answer to stronger, more diverse boards, but it offers a valuable opportunity for reflection when the board asks: what kind of board do we need to be to lead our charity? And who else needs to be round the table to make this happen? You might remember Reach's video last year on this very topic.
So why do so few boards recruit openly? To address this challenge we knew that we had to get under the skin of the issue. With support from Lottery Community Fund, and working with the Association of Chairs and Small Charities Coalition, we undertook some depth research designed to produce ‘actionable insights’. Some insights were unsurprising but crucial. For example, trustees are very time poor and few spend much time thinking about recruitment. Other insights were less obvious: many boards lack confidence about recruitment, and this creates fear; for example, fear of getting no candidates, or too many (how do you turn people down?). I’ve blogged about some of our findings already and you can read the full research.