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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5 Responses to Are charities failing to tap into volunteer talent?

  1. Rob Jackson says:

    Thank you Ian for highlighting this important issue.

    One key element I think your article misses is the perception of volunteers and trustees within organisations, particularly at senior management level. CEOs and directors often see volunteering as important but volunteers are rarely considered strategically and a culture allowed to develop that sees volunteers providing nice but non-essential services to the organisation.

    Trustees are usually seen are more professional and important, hence why they are rarely referred to as volunteers. Until staff and senior managers in VIOs start to see volunteers as capable of more than envelope stuffing and making the tea I fear little will change, despite the welcome efforts of people like you to challenge the status quo.

  2. Mark Neild says:

    Quite a few of our trustees start off as volunteers and we encourage new trustees to volunteer so that they really understand what we do. As Grow provides remote business mentoring skills to least developed countries, more of our volunteers have the trustee skills than is likely in other charities.
    I would add pragmatism and patience to the list of desired trustee skills. Experienced business people sometimes forget that there is not a big team of employees paid to execute projects so we need to ruthlessly priorities and keep things simple while recognising that that for our stakeholders we will ever be their top priority.

  3. Malcolm Bloor says:

    There is a tendency to look towards recently retired personnel for Trustees.These people initally want time to consider their retirement position.We also do not often spellout the specific roles of the trustees or areas of expertise we are looking for.For example we may be looking for a member to promote business development or finacial attributes so we look for example maybe a retired bank manager,and he/she does not wish to undertake this duty since this may be a reason why the retired.I would like to try and run a simple one day on volunteer recruitment for professional persons,since these are the most difficult to recruit.We should also consider approaching the HR departments of businesses/organistions with a view to having a “time slot” in their pre-retirement courses to talk about volunteering.

  4. Lynda Davies says:

    As a senior employee in a charity, the “best” trustee group I had (of five jobs in the sector)was a mixed group of retired or non-working people from professional and non professional background who all also volunteered in the project. The command lines were clear: when they were volunteering, I was their boss;When we were in a board meeting, I gave advice, but took instruction from them as to what to do, but not how to do it. And everyone cared about the strategic aims of the project, its reputation and its practical accomplishments.

    • Anonymous says:

      I am really glad this worked for you Lynda, in relation to the command lines being clear. Unfortunately, some Trustees cannot differentiate between these roles and this is where national charities come into their own, where local support committees deal with issues, but the workers are line-managed by paid staff.