What every trustee should know

Ian Joseph, Chief Executive of Trustees Unlimited

NCVO’s Trustee Conference this year focuses on the importance of good leadership and governance in charities and I am delighted to be running a workshop on behalf of Trustees Unlimited entitled, ‘What every new trustee should know.’

Last year, Trustees Unlimited surveyed 1,600 trustees to find out their motivations behind becoming a trustee and also how they found the process of finding a role. We discovered that the number one attraction of trusteeship for people is to ‘give something back’ (55%), secondly, to gain new skills and improve professional development (33%), and thirdly, people become trustees because they are committed to a charity’s cause (30%).

The research also revealed that people had encountered barriers in their journey to becoming a trustee. The main hurdle was the lack of information about available vacancies and knowledge about what the role involves. People said that charities are not good at promoting trusteeships and perhaps this explains why 38% of people questioned were still looking for a trustee position.

Out of those that had found a trusteeship, 45% had responded to a job advert and 45% had been recruited via an acquaintance or colleague. It seems that fact that charities are recruiting in such a narrow way, using their own networks to find new recruits could be hindering their board diversity. One in five trustees we surveyed said their charity board lacks a diverse range of skills and over half (51%) said a more diverse board would enhance their charity’s effectiveness.

To attract a greater number of trustees, charities must do more to promote their opportunities and also educate people about what the role entails and offer more support for those who take up the position.

The main difficulties cited by trustees in taking up a trustee role were time commitments, the difficulty in understanding financial management issues and governance as well as their role and their responsibilities. We were surprised to find that one in ten respondents said they hadn’t been given the charities’ governing documents to read when they started as a trustee.

43% said they hadn’t received an induction and 46% hadn’t seen any job description outlining their remit and responsibilities. Over half wanted more training in governance, in managing risks and liabilities and in finance.

Charities have an obligation to ensure trustees are fully aware of their responsibilities and that proper inductions are provided so new members of the board understand the correct policies and procedures. Good governance should include training for all trustees, from new recruits to long time servers, and it seems clear that some charities are falling down in this respect and need to rethink their investment in governance training.

So there are two key issues here, charities need to do more to publicise their trusteeships to attract newcomers and also give trustees the start they deserve by providing a good induction and on-going support and training to ensure all trustees can make a valuable contribution.


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