The Trustee Recruitment Cycle: the story so far

Trustee Recruitment Cycle logo
Janet Thorne
Chief Executive at Reach Volunteering

Who is sitting round your board table? The question of who is leading your charity has never been more urgent. Janet introduces Reach's work with partners on the Trustee Recruitment Cycle.

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
 

Do all your trustees look and think the same?

The Trustee Recruitment Cycle

From our research it was clear that boards would find support and guidance helpful, but only if it is designed to meet the issues identified in the research. We created a very basic paper prototype of the Trustee Recruitment Cycle to test out the idea and then drew up design principles, and design guidelines to ensure that we focus the resources on trustees’ needs. For example, trustees are very short of time and want to dip in and out of content according to what they need at that moment, so every topic needs to work as an integrated part of the cycle but also be able to stand alone. And it is important that users can find it easily in Google and other search engines (search engine optimisation).
 

The Trustee Recruitment Cycle

One common theme is that trustees want to hear how other boards recruit trustees. I have had the privilege of judging the Charity Governance Awards Diversity and Inclusion category several times and I know that there is a stock of brilliantly diverse boards who recruit in a thoughtful and effective way. The awards organisers, The Clothworkers Company, agreed to support us to draw on the experience of these finalists, and weave their stories through the cycle's guidance. These first-hand accounts of trustees describing how they took their first steps to diversify their boards, and how much they have gained from the results are very inspiring and will hopefully encourage other boards to take a leap of faith and try something different.
 
Of course, there is already lots of good material already out there. Getting on Board recently produced an excellent guide to trustee recruitment, and they are generously allowing  us to re-purpose their material for our online resource. We'll also be linking outwards to other useful materials and resources.

Next steps 

We hope to launch the Trustee Recruitment Cycle soon – either before Christmas, or early next year. We will be engaging a community of 'expert' reviewers too. When the cycle goes live, it will be just the first version – we hope to keep iterating and improving it, based on feedback. Most of all, we hope it will be used, and be useful! 

Right now you can have a preview and register for updates. Feedback and comments are most welcome – email me at jthorne@reachvolunteering.org.uk

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