Charities are facing skills gaps on trustee boards

Britain’s charities facing skills gaps on their trustee boards

–       47% of trustees recognise skills gaps on their boards –

–       Leadership is the number one skill required for trustees –

–       Too many ‘Obsessives,’ ‘Colonels’ and ‘Gong Hunters’ on British boards

11 November 2014 – 47% of trustees recognise there are skills gaps on their boards and 46% say their charity doesn’t appraise the performance of board members, according to a new survey from Trustees Unlimited, a specialist in trustee recruitment. 

Trustees Unlimited surveyed its database of 2,000 trustees in the run up to Trustees week (10-16 November 2014) to understand more about how board performance is measured and the contribution trustees make to enhance their organisation’s performance. 

The skills gaps cited by the trustees included legal, HR and fundraising as well as social media and marketing and communications.

Less than half (44%) said their charity undertakes board member appraisals every year, 10% have appraisals every two years and 46% are never appraised.  Over a third said their Chair isn’t appraised either. Whilst over half of trustee said their terms of office were three to five years, almost a third of admitted there were no fixed terms of office for trustees.

Despite recognising skills gaps charities are recruiting new trustees by word of mouth (16%) and mainly through their own networks (42%). Around a third use recruitment agencies or job boards and only 8% advertise vacancies.

Ian Joseph, Chief Executive of Trustees Unlimited: “On the one hand it is commendable that almost 50% of organisations recognise where they have skills gaps, however, it’s extraordinary that almost half of trustees are unaware of the skills they are lacking. It is also worrying to see that the approach to appraising board performance is so variable when governance is more important than ever. A lack of diverse skills on a board is a huge risk. By relying on word of mouth or using their own networks to recruit trustees, charities are really limiting their talent pool. Having no fixed terms for trustees also prevents talent coming through.”

“There is a wealth of talented people out there who would be interested in becoming a trustee. However, charities must be more innovative to reach them – using social media channels and other recruitment methods to attract them. If they don’t, they will get left behind and the skills gaps will widen,” he added.

Tesse Akpeki, Onboard Consultant at Bates Wells Braithwaite added, “Recruitment has never been so high on the governance agenda.  It has to be strategic and smart.  The right people, playing the right roles at the right time can demonstrate the quality of leadership the sector needs.”

According to trustees, the top skills needed around the boardroom table are leadership, finance and chairing skills.  The most desirable characteristic of a good trustee is contributing to the organisation’s performance (32%), next important is strategic thinking and thirdly being passionate about the cause. Half of trustee said they saw that their colleagues possessed these qualities, 40% said they saw these qualities most of the time and one in ten said they did not see these characteristics in their co-trustees.

They also noted some unusual styles of behaviour. Whilst over 70% recognised the ‘Helpful Person’ who always offers their time and input, nearly 46% recognised the ‘Obsessive’ who pays too much attention to the small details and 36% the ‘Parsley on the Fish’ a board member that looks good, but doesn’t do much. There are also many ‘Colonels’ sat on Britain’s boards, trustees who are excellent at giving direction and opinions, but not so good at action, and almost a quarter of respondents said they recognised the ‘Gong Hunter’, someone who is only looking for glory.

Ian Joseph concluded: “To be a good trustee takes many skills but also a firm commitment to the role and the charity cause. It is the responsibility of the Chair to bring out the best in trustees – using their skills in the right way, ensuring that meetings are run effectively and that everyone makes a valuable contribution at each meeting. There is no room for Colonels and Gong Hunters on charity boards, especially given charities are under ever increasing scrutiny from the public and from their regulators. Having trustees not up to the job is simply unacceptable.”

About Trustees Unlimited

Established in October 2009, Trustees Unlimited and its sister organisation Non Executives Unlimited are joint ventures between NCVOBates Wells  Braithwaite, and Russam GMS to provide a solution to the problem many not for profit organisations face – trying to recruit high quality trustees in a rigorous and yet cost effective way.  All the partners are industry leaders. Bates Wells Braithwaite is the leading law firm in the Third Sector offering an extensive range of services and is recognised as a thought leader; Russam GMS is a leading provider of Interim Managers. It also provides a senior level executive search services for the Not for Profit – handling their most important roles.  NCVO is the umbrella body for the voluntary sector which has a pre-eminent reputation in relation to governance and trusteeship. In 1992, NCVO recognised the help organisations and trustees needed in this area and has provided dedicated support in governance and leadership to the sector ever since.