'Someone I know' is not good enough any more

Published: 25 Nov 2013

Making sure a trustee board is fresh and has the right combination of skills, experience and backgrounds can be a major challenge for voluntary organisations.

It can be hard to know where to find new board members, outside the usual personal networks of senior staff or existing trustees. But the risk in recruiting purely from existing networks is that boards will not gain diversity and a spread of skills.

Derek Twine, the former chief executive of the Scout Association and chair of the charity chief executives body Acevo's recent governance commission, believes that many charities, especially smaller ones, are wary about recruiting outside their usual pool of candidates.

"It's not that they don't want to, but they lack confidence about how to recruit in a more open way," he says. "So they resort to the 'someone I know' syndrome."

A key element of the process, he argues, is for a charity's board and senior people to reflect on how they want the organisation to develop in the next three to five years. From this process they can draw up a list of trustee skills and experience that will be needed to support this plan.

Too many charities still fail to insist on getting the right candidates to join the board, says governance consultant Stella Smith. "Charities often take whoever they can get because they think nobody will want to be a trustee," she says. In fact, she argues, trustees will come forward if the charity can communicate that they will be valued and will make a difference.

It is also important to be completely honest with candidates about what their role will involve, says Smith. This includes saying how often meetings will be held and when they will take place, how many hours the trustee will be expected to spend on charity business each month and whether they will be expected to sit on any sub-committees.

"The big problem is that charities don't aim high enough or invest enough time in the recruitment process," says Janet Thorne, chief executive of the charity Reach, which runs the TrusteeWorks trustee brokerage service. "It's about being clear what the role is, communicating the value of the charity's work and explaining how trustees can make a difference," she says.

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