Lack of diversity among trustees ‘remains a challenge’, warns report

Charity boards continue to be blighted by a lack of diversity, a report into the challenges facing trustees has found.

Almost all trustees surveyed for the report admitted their boards were less diverse than they would like.

They also said they are “unsure about how to resolve this issue”, according to the report by Charities Aid Foundation and accountancy body ICAEW.

In addition, not all charities see the importance of diversity among trustees, warns the report.

International human rights charities are more likely to want a diverse board than “a local foodbank”, said CAF and ICAEW.

The two bodies say diversity is vital to boards to ensure they are not “homogenous in opinion and experience”, adding that “different backgrounds within a trustee board can challenge old behaviours and bring new ideas”.

Latest research by the Charity Commission has found that less than one in ten (8%) of trustees are non-white, compared to 14% of the population. Less than a third are women. Lack of diversity in age is also rife at board level, with the median age of a trustee currently 61. Just 0.5% of trustees are aged between 18-24-years-old.

Charities are urged to train a wider pool of people without trustee experience to become trustees “rather than rejecting them for lack of experience”.

Also being called for is a system of attracting new trustees, to introduce a greater range of people to charity board roles.

“It would also be ideal if it could be led by people with lived experience,” said one representative from an asylum seeker support charity.

“We are grappling with this. We don’t want to give them responsibility for all this work and say “you should do this yourselves”, but we do want their

Importance of digital skills

Among other challenges facing boards is the need to ramp up trustees’ digital skills. Boosting the digital skills, of older trustees in particular, is seen as vital by charities to engaging with young volunteers and donors.

“We are dealing with young people, so digital is hugely important,” a representative of a youth charity said.

CAF and ICAEW’s report adds: “Digital technologies form an essential part of charities’ outreach toolkits and, in many cases, their service delivery.

“However, not all charities – or their trustees – feel confident using digital tools.
Consequently, some charities are missing out on new ways of supporting service delivery and reaching wider audiences.

“Improved training and educational resources in this space would be valuable especially for charities managed by older generations.”

Environmental challenges

Another challenge is the need to ensure the charity is helping to protect the environment.

The report cites Scottish Charity Regulator research that found that only a fifth of charities have a strategy in place to mitigate and respond to climate change.

More than one in ten (13%) don’t think their charity needs such a strategy.

“While some trustees are hesitant to pursue climate initiatives because of the view that these can be costly, there is a recognition that it is an increasingly important and necessary issue to address,” states the report.

“Guidance on how to build climate or sustainability policies for smaller, local charities would be particularly helpful.

“Possible solutions could include encouraging small charities to collaborate in meeting climate targets and policies or working with local government and other organisational bodies to help develop incentive models for not-for-profits seeking to become more sustainable.”

The need to diversify funding and for trustees to collaborate with their counterparts at other charities are among other challenges facing boards, adds the report.

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