Charity trustee recruitment

Of particular interest to – all working in UK charities

ICSA has published a new guidance note on charity trustee recruitment. 

Trustees are central to the success of a charity, being responsible for the overall direction, strategy and vision of the organisation. It is therefore vital that they are effective both individually and collectively if they are to help the charity fulfil its objects. 

Research into trustee recruitment by Getting On Board – a charity supporting board appointments – reported that 74% of respondents found recruiting trustees hard. Inherent in building and maintaining an effective trustee board are robust systems for recruiting, appointing and inducting trustees, backed up by ongoing support and development.

While trusteeship is a serious duty, there are positive aspects that can help an individual personally and professionally:

  • Knowing you are contributing to a worthwhile cause
  • Building self-confidence and experience of committee work
  • Acquiring new skills – both personal and professional – through training, information and sharing experiences
  • Enjoying working with people from different backgrounds who share a passion for a cause. 

Charity trusteeship can offer satisfaction, challenge and new experiences, but it should not be forgotten that it can be quite onerous and a significant time commitment.

A robust and transparent approach to recruiting trustees is therefore crucial to a charity’s performance, as well as the opportunities and benefits provided to its beneficiaries and wider stakeholders.

Preparing to recruit

Charity trustees should primarily be appointed for what they can contribute in experience, diversity, empathy and knowledge. It is not necessarily prudent for a trustee to be appointed just because of their status or position in a particular place or community. Such figurehead trustees better serve the charity as patrons or similar.
 
To ensure a trustee fulfils the role properly they should be able to sufficiently commit to it. So far as feasible, it is important to ensure any board of trustees has a blend of complementary skills and attributes, as well as a mix of ideal personal qualities. 

Due consideration should also be given to recruiting trustees who reflect the diversity of the community the charity serves, which will increase its authority when speaking on behalf of its beneficiaries.

A charity should prepare before it recruits new trustees to ensure it is best placed to seek and attract those with the skills and experience the organisation needs. This preparation should be timed to coincide with the charity’s annual general meeting (AGM), if that is when trustees are elected or formally appointed.

Regardless of size, all charities should identify the skills and experiences the trustee body possesses collectively. For larger charities, it is likely that the charity secretary or governance professional maintains and regularly updates a skills register for review and approval by the board. 

This will include details of each individual trustee’s skills, experiences, knowledge, expertise and interests. It is likely the register will be updated annually, or when a trustee undergoes new training or experiences pertinent to the work of the charity, acquired through the work of the charity or other means.

The Charity Commission believes that for a charity to attract suitable trustees from a wide pool of candidates trustee boards must use a range of methods, in proportion with the size and resources of the organisation. There are a number of recruitment methods available, each with benefits and drawbacks. 

The guidance note discusses the following options:

  • Word of mouth
  • Elections
  • Advertisements
  • Charity communications and events
  • Brokerage services
  • Nomination committees
  • Interviews
  • Co-option

Vital communication

Throughout the process, trustees should manage expectations of potential trustees and ensure any communications relating to the position and the charity are a true and fair portrayal of the work and time commitment involved.

An honest approach explaining the role the new trustee is expected to play should help reduce future disappointments, particularly around time commitments, that may arise for both parties.

Correspondence between the charity and the potential trustee should be professional and timely. Where there is an agreed person specification, role description and evidence-based criteria used for the selection, these should be shared with the prospective trustee. 

A conscientious applicant will want to know more about the charity to ensure that they have the skills, experience and empathy to support the charity’s aims. Thus the charity should be willing to provide the applicant with relevant information to assist them in their decision.

As with employment practices, it is essential for references to be taken to verify the experiences and skills of the candidate, and check other matters that may arise during recruitment. To ensure the nominated trustee meets legal requirements the charity can ask them to sign an eligibility declaration.

Effective trustees are the bedrock for a successful, efficient charity and therefore the importance placed on attracting and retaining appropriately skilled and experienced trustees with empathy for the charity’s aims should not be underestimated.

Establishing robust systems for recruiting trustees from various backgrounds gives charities the best opportunity to find people with a variety of skills and experiences useful to the charity and its support of beneficiaries.

The new guidance note can be found here.

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