Are charities failing to tap into volunteer talent?

Ian-JosephIan Joseph, CEO of Trustees Unlimited and Managing Director, Russam GMS, asks if charities are missing a trick by not doing more to recruit potential trustees from their volunteer base.

According to the NCVO’s Civil Society Almanac, 15.2m people in the UK are volunteering at least once a month and 23.1m do so every year. Yet many charities are failing to tap into their volunteer talent and understand what skills they already have within their organisation.

Is volunteering a route to trusteeship?

In the run up to Volunteers’ Week we conducted some research amongst our database of 2,000 existing and potential trustees to see if there is a link between people volunteering their time for a charity and going on to become trustees.

While both roles are volunteer positions, 78% of respondents said they didn’t volunteer before becoming a trustee, and almost half (45%) weren’t sure that volunteering is the best first step towards trusteeship because of the different skills required for the role.

Lack of encouragement

Our research highlighted that many charities aren’t encouraging their volunteers to become trustees and that they may not be doing enough to tell them about trustee opportunities.

43% of respondents said their charity doesn’t encourage volunteers to become trustees and one-fifth said they never hear about trustee vacancies either. With 35% of volunteers identifying that they would like to move into a trustee position in the future this may indicate that charities are potentially overlooking talent.

Missing a trick

Volunteers come from a wide variety of backgrounds, and many have valuable skills and experience that would make them ideal trustees. With an estimated one in five charities struggling to recruit trustees, we could be missing an opportunity to tap into that potential talent. So do charities really understand what volunteers could bring to these roles?

We also looked at what motivates people to volunteer their time in either capacity and found the following key drivers for people volunteering:

  • 74% wanted to “share their skill set”
  • 70% wanted to “use their time in a way that contributes to society”
  • 55% wanted  to “give something back to society”
  • 44% said that volunteering makes them happy

Of the trustees we spoke to, over half (55%) said that charities could be doing more to recruit from their volunteer base and suggested they could do this by advertising their roles more widely, setting up training programmes to help more people become trustees and provide better education about what trusteeship involves.

For volunteers thinking of becoming a trustee, almost three quarters of respondents said the most important skills are professional skills, followed by leadership skills and the ability to influence people, and previous board experience. A corporate background, senior level experience and financial knowledge were also seen as important.

What can be done

We would encourage charities to look more closely at their volunteers as potential trustee recruits.

With charities increasingly keen to make their boards more diverse, having different routes to trusteeship is important. Existing volunteers or donors can be another recruitment channel that charities could be utilising more, rather than relying on the same networks for recruiting trustees.

Volunteers interested in becoming a trustee should research the opportunities out there, either with their own charity or another to find the best fit. While the position is challenging, it can also be a stimulating and rewarding experience, and can help develop new skills or make use of existing ones in a completely different environment.

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