BLOG: Building better trustee boards

Written by Susie Cummings

The charity sector is in a state of flux. Under the weight of increased levels of scrutiny following recent high-profile scandals from the likes of Kids Company, the board and trustees of charities across the UK, Europe and the rest of the world have never before been more closely scrutinised.

At the same time, with consistent censure directed at charities’ boards of trustees, concerns regarding fundraising in large charities and ongoing lack of public trust, the recruitment of bright, engaged and capable trustees is more challenging than ever.

Here lies the problem: boards are both the head and the heart of every organisation, with the ability to affect real and lasting change. However, without the right process for recruiting individuals who reflect the values and purpose of the organisation, we will continue to see public opinion decline and scrutiny rise.

Finding a balance – skills, experience and governance

The Charity Commission’s guidance CC10 The Hallmarks of an Effective Charity states that “an effective charity is run by a clearly identifiable board or trustee body that has the right balance of skills and experience, acts in the best interests of the charity and its beneficiaries, understands its responsibilities and has systems in place to exercise them properly”.

We believe it is therefore essential that trustees of all charities ensure some board members have experience in the area relevant to the charity’s activities, the time to prepare and provide evidence-based decisions and that all trustees have the appropriate attitude towards responsible governance.

The solution lies in the recruitment process

It is often the case that the way in which many organisations recruit trustees hinders the diversity of their boards. Against a backdrop of increased scrutiny, and a fundamental need to recruit trustees with relevant experience, it is surprising that charities are often not searching outside their own networks to attract the best talent. This in itself is limiting.

If the goal is to have trustees with the right skill sets in the right roles regardless of race, gender, age or background, the starting point must be ensuring that third sector leaders have access to a diverse talent pool to begin with and that they build shortlists based on candidates with the most relevant skills and experience. This is imperative if we are to ensure more robust, effective boards of trustees.

Placing the right trustees in the right roles

Working with charities such as the Wild Screen, the Landmark Trust and Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, we have seen first-hand how a need for diversity, a clear brief and a dynamic candidate-led process can recruit the right trustee for the right role to help a charity achieve its vision.

Creating better boards lies in identifying the unique skill sets required and utilising a platform that has the breadth, scale and quality of C-level executives that no longer relies on an old boys’ network of contacts.

It is time charity boards reassess how they recruit and focus on a candidate-led approach. By placing the search process at the heart and finding the right people for the right roles, we can ensure that charities will be able to improve functionality, raise more money and ultimately, deploy their resources more effectively for the communities and causes they serve.

Susie Cummings is the chief executive of Nurole.

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