Charity Commission publishes major report into trusteeship

13 Nov 2017 News

Fergus Burnett

The Charity Commission has published a major new report into trusteeship which calls for changes in the way boards are recruited and supported.

The report, Taken on Trust: the Awareness and Effectiveness of Charity Trustees in England & Wales, finds that there are 150,000 fewer trustees in the UK than previously believed. Trustee payment remains relatively rare, with only 2,000 charities – 1.6 per cent – paying trustees.

It has estimated that the value fo the time that trustees spend on their role is around £3.5bn per year. 

But trustee diversity is poor, with a disproportionate number of old, wealthy white men in trustee roles. Trustee boards have relatively serious skills gaps, and most boards are not accessing external support from any source apart from the Charity Commission website and publications.

However the report also finds that awareness of trustees’ legal status and responsibilities are much better than previously supposed, that trustees do not find their duties as burdensome as the Commission had feared, and that there is no obvious shortage of individuals seeking trustee roles.

The report makes 28 recommendations, which fall into five categories:

  • Measures to improve diversity and recruitment
  • Changes to how boards are supported
  • A digital advice, support and communications strategy
  • A need for the Charity Commission to collect additional information
  • A call for further longitudinal research to support this report

The report was produced by a team led by professor Stephen Lee of the Centre for Charity Effectiveness at Cass Business School. The report was based on questionnaires completed by more than 3,000 trustees, drawn from a sample of trustees from the Commission database.

'Encouraging and sobering'

The Commission’s response to the report said that it was both encouraging and sobering.

“Despite the significant demands on their time and expertise, trustees are overwhelmingly positive about the rewards of the role,” the response said. “Far from feeling anxious about their responsibilities, most trustees tell us they take joy and pride in their work. This is to be welcomed and celebrated.

“But there is no room for complacency about the state of trusteeship. The findings are sobering. Trustees do not reflect the communities that charities serve. They are disproportionately older, highly educated and white; men outnumber women by two to one and three-quarters earn above the national median household income.”

Helen Stephenson, chief executive of the Charity Commission, said the report should be a “catalyst for action”. 

“This is an opportunity for the sector to initiate change that secures its future,” she added. 

'Make people more aware of the benefits' 

Tracey Crouch, minister for civil society, wrote the foreword to the report and said that it presents the sector with an opportunity. 

“This research project has painted a clear picture of our trustees. It shows us the huge amount of work that trustees are putting in, and that trusteeship is highly rewarding. It also highlights some important areas where change could help strengthen charity governance,” she said.

She added that: “It is clear that there is an opportunity to make more people aware of the opportunities and benefits of trusteeship and to help boards access an even wider pool of talent.”

Crouch said that charities were best placed to respond but promised government support. 

She said: “The sector will be best placed to take a lead in responding to the findings of this research. However, government and the regulator will of course be ready to offer support. The charity sector is one of this country’s greatest assets, and our trustees are central to its success, so meeting their needs should be a priority.”

Civil Society News publishes a bi-monthly magazine for trustees, Governance & Leadership, as well as offering a range of trustee training and an annual conference.



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