Plan your recruitment process, draw up a trustee role description, and get ready to engage with candidates.

Once you are clear about the skills and qualities that you are looking for in a new trustee, spend time preparing and planning before you jump into advertising. It really will increase your chances of success.

Decide on your process, plan key dates and agree who will be involved. A good process will help you select the right trustees, and it will make the experience more engaging and inclusive for all candidates. Consider what people need to know about your trustee role and your charity, and what will encourage them to apply. A clear, concise trustee role description is helpful.

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Planning the process

Invest time at this stage so that you can run an effective and inclusive recruitment process. It will save you effort in the long run. Keep focused on your end goal – new trustees that will bring valuable new skills and perspectives to your board. 

You might want to create a recruitment sub committee to lead on the trustee recruitment process. This committee could include people who are not trustees, which could help you include greater diversity and professional expertise on your panel if your board is lacking in these.

Before making your plan:  

  • Define the key attributes that you are looking for: skills, lived experience, understanding and values (see the Reflect section for help with this).
  • Decide if prior trustee experience is essential or whether you would consider a first-time trustee with the skills, enthusiasm and willingness to learn.
  • Agree how many trustees you want to recruit. 

What to include in your plan

Writing the role description and advert

  • Before writing your role description, meet as a board to complete a skills audit and a diversity audit (see the Reflect section for help with this). These will inform what you put in your role description. 
  • Who will write the role description and advert and who will sign these off? 
  • If you decide to produce a recruitment pack, who will prepare this and sign it off?
  • It’s worth asking someone from your target audience to check if the role description and advert are attractive to the kind of people you want to apply before it’s finalised. Who will do this and when?

Where to place your advert

  • It’s best to use a couple of different methods of advertising to increase the chances of you reaching the people you want to apply. 
  • You might need to tailor your advert for different media (see the Advertise section for help with this). 
  • Who will decide where you should advertise and who will post the advert?

How you want people to apply

You should choose an application approach that will suit the kind of people you want to recruit and that will help you when you shortlist applications. 

A CV and cover letter
This is the approach most people are familiar with. However, it can be difficult to shortlist from these documents as everybody’s CVs and letters will be a bit different. CVs can be hard to interpret if they are from an unfamiliar profession or industry and it can be tricky to see if their skills are transferable to your charity. 

Also, CVs may not demonstrate many of the qualities you seek, such as lived experience or passion for your cause. Give candidates clear instructions to include these points in their cover letter, so that you are able to identify and shortlist people with the attributes that you actually need.

Using an application form
This can be a good way to get applicants to give you the information that is most relevant for shortlisting. For example, you could ask: ‘Why do they want to be a trustee of your charity?’ or ‘What is their experience of volunteering?’ 

However, application forms can deter applicants. Forms require extra administrative effort from applicants, and they can seem bureaucratic and old fashioned. People often find it off putting if their first interaction with your charity is form filling so they could cause people to drop out at this stage.

Asking applicants to answer specific questions
Ask people to reply to questions that are designed to demonstrate the attributes that you are looking for and shortlist based on their responses alone. This approach can make shortlisting easier and it significantly reduces unconscious bias because it is focused only on an applicant's attributes. However, working out the questions you want to ask does mean investing more time up front. Reach Volunteering has recruited staff using this approach.

Engaging with applicants before the interview

  • You might get queries from people who want to find out more about the charity and the role before they apply. 
  • You should decide in advance if you will allow applicants to ask questions before their interview. 
  • If people can ask questions:
    • Who will deal with these questions and how will you make sure they’re available and briefed on what to say? 
    • Include contact details in your advert.
  • Agree your process for responding to applications and updating people about the progress of their application. 

Shortlisting and interviewing

  • Who do you want on your interview panel – will you include service users, senior staff and/or trustees on the panel? 
  • How will you ensure your panel is sufficiently diverse and has expertise in the skills and knowledge you’re recruiting for? 
  • Agree who will shortlist and interview, and get dates in their diaries well in advance to make sure they’re available. 
  • If you are interviewing people remotely, it is wise to have a larger number of shorter, focused interviews - read this blog about recruiting and inducting trustees remotely. 

Appointing your new trustee

Decide who will: 

  • Collect references
  • Carry out Disclosure Baring Service(DBS) checks (if required) 
  • Organise the logistics for them to be formally appointed or elected – for example, sending out notices for an AGM.

See the Appoint and Induct section for help with this. 

Create a recruitment timetable

There will be some specific timescales you need to work to so it is helpful to put them together in a schedule:

  • Confirm the stages in your recruitment and who will be involved in each one.
  • Make a note of key dates, such as when you will do your skills audit, post your advert and hold interviews.
  • Check the availability of those involved in the recruitment process.
  • If you have a set date when you need to elect/appoint trustees (for example, an AGM), plan back from that date to set your target timescales for each stage. 
  • If you have flexibility, you can plan forward based on the time you think each stage will take.

Remember, you can always adjust your timings if necessary, but having a plan will make your recruitment process more efficient and will give you a blueprint to follow for future trustee recruitment. 

Be flexible with your plan

It is important to plan well but, when you put your plan into action, be prepared to adapt it. You may have to repeat a step or change it if it’s not helping you attract and select people with the attributes you need. No recruitment process is guaranteed, but having a flexible mindset will increase your chances of success.

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Engaging potential trustees

Trustee recruitment is a two-way street: applicants want to learn about your organisation as much as you want to find out about them. Help prospective trustees understand your organisation, your cause and your board. This will encourage and motivate the people who match what you are looking for and it will help them to make better applications. Always remember that you are asking people to apply for a voluntary role with considerable responsibility. Respect their time – make it easy for them.

Typically, people want to understand: 

  • Your cause and the difference that your organisation makes
  • Your organisation's story, the people it serves, and how it serves them
  • Your strategy and key priorities for the board
  • Who the other trustees are, how your board operates and the role it plays
  • Your vision, mission, culture and values
  • Your financial sustainability.

A recruitment pack is a good way of bringing this information together in one place. If you want to attract first-time trustees, make sure that you avoid using jargon and that all the information you share with them is written in clear, accessible language. See later for more on recruitment packs.

Explain the process

Share details of the recruitment process with applicants at the start. Make it clear that you are prepared to adapt the process to be inclusive and allow people with access needs to participate on an equal footing. Doing this alongside details of the recruitment process will give people the confidence to ask for the modifications they need. It will also reassure people who are unfamiliar with the trustee role and/or the recruitment process and will show that you will treat all applicants fairly. 

Presenting your charity to potential trustees

How do you look to the outside world?

Before you launch your campaign, take an objective look at how you appear to the outside world. For example:

  • Is your entry on the Register of Charities up to date? 
  • Is it clear from your website and other materials what your charity does and why it exists? 

If there are things that might deter potential trustees, address these now if you can, or be prepared for questions that might crop up.

Think about how inclusive and diverse you are as an organisation and how you might appear from an outside perspective. Consider the images and language you use and how welcoming and accessible they are. For example, does the content on your website reflect all of the communities that you serve? Does it follow good practice on accessibility and inclusion? This is a good time to identify issues and make updates. The Charity Governance Code has an updated section on equality, diversity and inclusion that may be helpful here.

How you can engage potential trustees

By the time people submit an application, they should already have a picture of what your charity is like. The more clearly you can express who you are as an organisation, what you do, and the values that underpin how you work, the more likely you are to find trustees who have synergy with you.

Be proactive about engaging with people about being a trustee of your charity. If you do this on an ongoing basis, and not just when you are recruiting, it will help you to develop a pipeline of potential trustees.

Things you can do

  • Produce a recruitment pack so you can provide more information to potential applicants – include your current strategy, priorities for the board and why you’re looking for trustees with specific skills. 
  • In your recruitment pack, describe the support and training that you will provide to new trustees – this demonstrates that you really do welcome people without previous experience, and that you plan to support them so that they can contribute effectively. 
  • Make it clear that you provide ongoing support and training for all trustees so they can develop the skills that they need to fulfil the role of trustee at your charity. 
  • If you have upcoming events or open days involving staff, volunteers, supporters and/or service users, invite potential applicants along.
  • Encourage people interested in your charity to volunteer. Even if it’s only on a short-term basis, it might inspire them to join your board in the future.
  • Make the most of informal chats with both potential applicants and those who may be interested in applying to be a trustee further down the line.

What to share with potential trustees

Gather information together to make it easy for people to understand your charity better. You probably have a lot of this material already in different places. You can signpost people to the following, or incorporate them into a recruitment pack:

  • Information about your charity’s key activities and services and the scale of your operations
  • Information about the outcomes and impact the charity’s services have had
  • A link to your entry on the Register of Charities
  • Details of who your current trustees are
  • Information about your staff and/or volunteer structure and details of your executive team (if you have one)
  • Information about key partners that the charity works with
  • Your website and social media channels
  • Information about awards the charity has won, positive media coverage or other inspiring reports about the charity’s achievements.

Use material you already have

Even if this is your first trustee recruitment campaign, you don’t have to start from scratch. Use what you have already. For example:

  • Vision statement
  • Mission
  • Values
  • Trustees annual report and accounts
  • Strategy document or business plan including your short and long-term goals
  • Role description or trustee code of conduct (if you have them)
  • Extracts from funding bids
  • Adverts for paid jobs in the charity
  • Newsletters, magazines or other publications you produce about the charity’s work.

This will help reduce the work involved in your campaign and will ensure that what you tell potential trustees is in line with your charity’s wider messages. 

A letter from the chair of trustees in the recruitment pack is a great place to put forward the message that you really want diverse trustees.
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Write a trustee role description

Describe your charity’s expectations of trustees in your trustee role description. This is vital for first-time trustees but it’s also helpful for people that have been trustees before because the role can vary significantly from one organisation to another.  

You should include:

  • The duties and responsibilities of a trustee.
  • The qualities and attributes that you are looking for, such as lived expertise or specific skills (see Reflect for help with this).
  • Any specific responsibilities that the role has, such as chair or treasurer.
  • If membership of sub-committees is required.
  • Expected time commitment. 
  • Any behaviour standards that you use such as the Nolan Principles

Make it easy to read

Trustee role descriptions can be one of the biggest obstacles in getting people to apply for trustee roles. Use Plain English, keep them short and avoid jargon and acronyms. Keep your target audience in mind when writing the role description and ask someone from your target group to review it, to make sure that it is inclusive and not off-putting.

It's not an advert

Don't use your role description as copy for your advert – its purpose is to clarify the role, not to 'sell' it. You should include it in your recruitment pack, if you have one, or link to it when you advertise the role. 

Links about becoming a trustee

It’s also helpful to link to resources about becoming a trustee from your trustee role description/recruitment pack, such as: 

Recruiting without a role description is like you’re recruiting in the dark.
Small Charities Coalition
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Further reading

Create a trustee advert to attract the candidates you want and share it widely.
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Trustee Recruitment Cycle

The Trustee Recruitment Cycle helps boards recruit openly, for diversity of skills and experience. Providing information, tools and examples from real charities, we take you through the whole recruitment process.

Reflect > Prepare > Advertise > Shortlist & interview > Appoint & induct > Evaluate