Charity boards ‘need to be more diverse’

Charity boards need to do more to promote diversity and encourage applications from trustees from non-traditional backgrounds, according to a new report.

The research by Cass Business School is based on a survey of 19,064 trustees and showed that the number of active charity trustees in England and Wales is around 700,000 – significantly fewer than the commonly reported figure of 950,000.

The report, which was commissioned by the Charity Commission and the Office for Civil Society, found that men outnumber women trustees on boards by two to one, a finding which was reflected in the role of the Chair and Treasurer. The majority of trustees tend to be white British, older and above average income and education.

Trustees reported that they lacked relevant legal, digital, fundraising, marketing and campaigning skills at board level and were concerned about their skills in dealing with fraud and external cyber attack.

The report also found that charity trustees, who are overwhelmingly volunteers, feel positively about their role and about the personal reward and satisfaction it gives them. It also highlights that trustees’ contribution to charities amounts to a monetary equivalent of around £3.5 billion a year.

Lead researcher Professor Stephen Lee of the Cass Centre for Charity Effectiveness said it was essential that charity boards reflected the diverse societies that they operated in. He said: “There is a danger that charity trustee boards might become myopic in their views and in their decision making. We found that boards could be overly reliant upon fellow trustees for both recruitment of new trustees for both recruitment of new trustees and for their principal sources of advice and support.”

Meanwhile, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) and Trustees Unlimited are extending their board level volunteering programme ‘Step on Board’ to individuals or companies wanting to help between one and six employees become charity trustees.

The programme prepares, trains and places professionals onto charity boards as trustees. Since it launched in November 2014, Step on Board has helped over 140 senior employees from the private sector become trustees and non-executives on the boards of charities and organisations with a social or environmental mission. Companies including Barclays, Credit Suisse, Google and law firm Mishcon de Reya are amongst those who have participated in the programme.

Ian Joseph, Chief Executive at Trustees Unlimited and Managing Director of Russam GMS says: “We are delighted to open Step on Board to organisations and individuals not currently able to sign up to the programme through their company. The programme is a proven way for people to gain new skills, develop valuable leadership competencies and board level experience that can enhance their careers. Charities also benefit enormously from having people with professional skills on their boards to diversify their skills and help them achieve their goals.”

The Open Programme is run in two stages. Firstly, there is a ‘Becoming a Trustee Briefing’ session which explores what it really means to become a trustee. Secondly, the company runs a ‘Diagnostic and Matching Service’ to match people’s skills, interest and motivations with a suitable trustee role.

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