Sector responds to trustee research: 'A wake-up call for charities'

14 Nov 2017 News

Charity representative bodies have described the findings of the Charity Commission’s research into trusteeship as a “wake-up call” and promised to look at finding more ways to provide support to trustees. 

Yesterday the Charity Commission published the findings of research it asked Cass Business School to carry out into trusteeship. It is based on responses from 3,500 trustees and found that the sector is not very diverse and that trustees lack skills and support. 

A companion report from NCVO and the Cranfield Trust was also published yesterday, which looked at the 

Sector leaders have now promised to look at ways to improve support on offer and access to it. 

NCVO: ‘this is a wake up call’

Karl Wilding, director of public policy and volunteering at NCVO, said: “My first reaction when I read the report is that it is a wake-call for trustees. The fact that we are so dependent on a civic core of people clearly highlights how much we rely on a small group of people.”

He added that it’s important to tackle the issue of diversity because “more diverse governance” leads to “better decisions”. 

He said it looked as though there is a “fog” around where trustees could go for support and said the sector needs to “clear that fog” and find a way to “signpost” the different types of support available. 

Wilding also said that support providers should consider how best to provide support and look at new formats that “people are a more comfortable with”. 

He said there is a need for “bitesize chunks” and said it was worth looking at online courses “in a similar way to how people might get support in other aspects of their professional lives”.

In a blog on NCVO’s website, Dan Francis, senior governance consultant, said: “How we make trusteeship a more attractive volunteering opportunity to people of different backgrounds are both critical questions to the sustainability of charities.”  

He said charities needed to look at both the “supply” of trustees, and called for more oepne recruitment practices to attract different people and the “demand” and said the sector needs to  “critically assess if we can make the volunteering opportunity more interesting and one which to different types of people”. 

Association of Chairs: ‘words must be met by actions’ 

The Association of Chairs said the report needs to be “matched by actions and investment”. 

It added that: “It’s critical we understand trustees and Chairs if we are to support them effectively and we welcome the recommendation that this becomes an ongoing programme so we can track progress and trends.”

AoC also said that the report “confirms that chairs play a key role, with 74 per cent of trustees regarding them as an important source of advice and support. This underlines the need for improved support for chairs to help them support their board colleagues. We are keen to play our part in making that happen”.

It noted that there are a number of challenges for chairs. 

“The report sets out challenges for chairs in several areas: to recruit more widely and formally to ensure sufficient diversity of background, skills and perspective; to address some significant skills gaps that the research highlights; to consider the value of a wider range of external support and training; and to improve the induction process (only 34 per cent  were given a role/job description; and only 12 per cent received formal induction training).”

Acevo: 'Disappointing but not surprising'

Acevo chief executive Vicky Browning said: “The results of the Charity Commission research are disappointing but not surprising. Acevo’s own 2017 Pay and Equalities survey revealed that just three per cent of chief executives were from a BAME background. 

“Civil society leaders - whether exec or non-exec - should be representative of the communities they operate in and the people they support. Beneficiaries cannot be served properly if they aren’t reflected and represented by those that serve them.

“Diversity and gender imbalances will continue to self replicate while more than nine out of ten charities still recruit trustees by word of mouth. This, amongst much else, needs to change.”

IoF: ‘too many boards lack fundraising skills’

Stephanie Siddal, policy manager at the Institute of Fundraising, said: “We agree with the bulk of the findings from yesterday’s report, including that too many trustee boards lack fundraising skills, and share the sense that this needs to be addressed. This reflects existing research conducted in 2015 showing that many professional fundraisers have found fundraising skills and experience to be underrepresented on the boards of charities they have worked for.
“Trustees have a key role to play in how their charities fundraise, and that requires specific experience, expertise and insight. That’s why we’ve been working to provide resources for trustees and promote the link between governance and fundraising. We look forward to continuing to collaborate with partners across the sector on this agenda in the future.”

NPC: ‘shows the scale of the challenge’ 

Patrick Murray, head of policy and external affairs, at the charity sector think tank NPC, said: “The topline figures on diversity are very concerning. It shows the scale of the challenge.” 

He added that NPC was pleased that the research had drawn the link between “being diverse with being more effective,” as his organisation found from its state of the sector research earlier this year that improving diversity is often considered a “good idea but falls behind other priorities”. 

He said NPC was currently thinking about how it can take forward its work on diversity. 

“One of the things we have been suggesting is that charities should do more to report on diversity, very pleased to see that as one of the recommendations,” he said. 

Murray also said it was important for diversity to go beyond gender balance, and highlight that three quarters trustees earn over the median income, as a “big challenge”. 

He said this is part of the reason why it should be easier for some charities to pay their trustees. 
“Actually saying 2,000 people do pay their trustees shows you can do this if you think it will make your organisation more effective,” he said. 

Murray also said that he thought the report “was missing a bit around the role of trustees in ensuring charities have an impact” as well as their focus on finances and sustainablity.

CFG: ‘improving legal skills should be a priority’ 

Andrew O’Brien, director of policy and engagement, Charity Finance Group said: “This report significantly adds to our understanding of trusteeship in the charity sector. CFG, and other representative bodies, need to do more to help trustees and we will use the report to better understand how we can contribute to improving trusteeship, in partnership with the Charity Commission.
“It is worrying that 51 per cent of trustees are not fully aware of their legal responsibilities. This begs the question, to what extent can they get the skills that they need, if they don’t know what they need.  This is something that we must do as a matter of priority.”

Reach: 'there's no one-size-fits-all solution

Janet Thorne, chief executive of Reach, which runs a trustee recruitment scheme, said on its website: "There is not a one-size-fits-all solution. As the research shows, issues vary with size. Eighty per cent of charities have no staff at all, and the trustees do the (operational) work as well as the governance. Being a trustee for Oxfam is very different from being a ‘hands-on’ trustee of a local scout group or village hall and recruitment methods (and target audiences) will be different for both. This is one of the reasons I am unconvinced by some of the report’s recommendations – for example a national register of trustee vacancies.

"However, a more joined up approach by those who support charities to recruit trustees could certainly pay dividends. Reach is part of a working group exploring how we can develop a more a collaborative approach to encourage and support more charities to take an open approach to recruiting trustees. This is not just possible, it is essential: charities need boards with a breadth of skills and experience, to earn legitimacy and to provide good leadership." 


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