Trustee boards of charitable foundations are 99% white and 66% male

Written by Lauren Weymouth

The trustee boards of charitable foundations are 99 per cent white and 66 per cent male, “sobering” new research has revealed.

According to new figures prepared for the Association of Charitable Foundations by Cass Business School, foundation boards are 99 per cent white, 66 per cent male and 60 per cent over 65.

The research found that while there is a growing recognition among foundations of the societal benefits of having boards that more accurately reflect society, it is “not visible in the data".

On the dominance of white trustees among foundation boards, ACF said family-only boards may account for some of the variance, but “nonetheless, this is sobering – the needle clearly needs to move”.

Male trustees currently outnumber women 2:1, a figure that broadly mirrors the make-up of trustees within the wider charity sector.

“It is a statistic that raises a number of difficult questions, especially in a sector that has a predominantly female workforce (66%),” ACF said.

The research found almost 60 per cent of foundation trustees are also over 65 – just 3 per cent are under the age of 45.

This figure in particular raises considerations regarding “uniformity of perspective” and the long-term health of the sector from a governance point of view, ACF said.

“Issues to consider include, but are not limited to; recruitment methods (see below), flexibility of volunteering patterns, produced and re-produced notions of what expertise and leadership ‘looks like’ and the society-wide under-representation of women in senior executive roles,” the membership body continued.

“The picture painted by the data is not pretty. Bluntly put, it shows a part of the sector that it is disproportionately homogeneous in terms of race, gender and age, and arguably non-optimal in terms of structure and recruitment practices.

“There are stories behind the data, of course. For example, if we analyse the responses related only to behaviour and attitudes, we see a highly-motivated, highly-skilled group of volunteer trustees with a deep passion for the aims of the organisation they serve.

“But in sum, the data tells us what the sector already knew … we can and must do better.

“What that looks like may vary dramatically from foundation to foundation, and there will be specific considerations in-line with charitable mission, governance structures and organisational priorities.”

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