Charities failing to tap into volunteer skill base

Many UK charities are failing to see the potential for volunteers to become trustees, suggests new research from Trustees Unlimited.

Trustees Unlimited questioned its database of over 2,000 trustees and volunteers in the run up to Volunteers Week to find out what motivates people to volunteer, and to see if there is a link between people volunteering and going on to become trustees.

78% of respondents said they didn’t start off by volunteering before becoming a trustee and almost half (45%) weren’t sure that volunteering is the best first step towards trusteeship because of the different skills needed for the role.

However, the research highlighted that many charities are failing to encourage volunteers to become trustees or might not be doing enough to communicate trustee opportunities to them.

43% of respondents said their charity doesn’t encourage volunteers to become trustees, 40% said they were unsure if they did and just 17% said they did.  A fifth claimed they never hear about trustee vacancies either. The research highlighted that 35% of those volunteering would like to move into a trustee position, indicating a potential disconnect, with charities overlooking potential trustees in their volunteer community.

Over half (55%) said that charities could be doing more to recruit from their volunteer base and suggested they could do this by advertising their roles more widely, setting up training programmes to help more people become trustees and provide better education about what trusteeship involves.

Ian Joseph, CEO of Trustees Unlimited says, “According to NCVO’s Civil Society Almanac 15.2 million people in the UK are volunteering at least once a month [ref i], and this small survey raises some key questions about whether charities are doing enough to tap into volunteer talent.

Many charities have an army of volunteers with all sorts of skills and experience, but do they really understand enough about their skills and experience? Could they be doing more to recruit from their pool of volunteers and donors? An estimated one in five charities is struggling to recruit trustees, so are charities missing a trick here?

Whilst not every volunteer wants to become a trustee or indeed has the right skills, it would make sense for charities to promote trusteeships more widely through their organisation. Volunteers come from a wide variety of backgrounds and many will have valuable skills and experience that would make them ideal trustees,” adds Mr Joseph.

The research highlighted some barriers which are preventing volunteers from becoming trustees including the strategic and professional skills needed, the level of responsibility involved and the time commitments.

For volunteers thinking of becoming a trustee almost three quarters (74%) of respondents said the most important skills are professional skills, followed by leadership skills and the ability to influence people and previous board experience. A corporate background, senior level experience and financial knowledge were also seen as important.

The main motivating factor for people volunteering in either role is they “wanted to share their skill set” (74%), “wanted to use their time in a way that contributes to society” (70%) and “and give something back to society” (55%). 44% said they did it because it makes them happy.

Ian Joseph adds: “With charities increasingly keen to make their boards more diverse, having different routes to trusteeship is important. A volunteer or donor database is another recruitment channel that charities could be utilising more, rather than relying on the same networks for recruiting trustees,” concludes Ian Joseph.

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About Trustees Unlimited

Established in October 2009, Trustees Unlimited and its sister organisation Non Executives Unlimited are joint venture between NCVO,  Bates 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 and as well as an international resourcing capability in over 40 countries. 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.


[i] NCVO UK Civil Society Almanac