Expert view: Never forget the power of passion

Appointing trustees is getting complicated, but we must not lose sight of the essentials.

Whenever there is a charity gathering, the question of trusteeship always comes up - whether it is the difficulty of recruiting effective board members or the relative merits of the current crop.

With many charities now following best practice and advertising for new trustees, a great deal of the mystique has been removed and staff can usually be assured that such appointments are not just a case of tapping a good friend on the shoulder.

Working in today's voluntary sector requires skills and expertise beyond just being a good member of society, and the days of trustees not even bothering to read board papers in advance are gone. Interestingly, this is especially true for people who sit on a number of boards. Despite the huge workload, people with wide interests tend to accept appointments only where their contribution will be worthwhile.

Comment on trustee recruitment from sector leaders over the past year has varied from the positive suggestion that all vacancies should be made public - probably through advertising on a dedicated website - to criticism of the negative spin surrounding the difficulty of achieving a balanced board. The Governance Hub is certainly of the view that the whole question of trustee recruitment must be addressed if the increasing commitment and variety of qualifications required for such appointments is to be accepted by organisations and applicants alike.

The vast majority of experts in governance seem to believe that a straightforward skills audit followed by benchmarking against the current board members is a satisfactory way of identifying any potential vacancies. If the Government could be persuaded to underwrite the cost of publicising these requirements, a good many current imbalances could be addressed without adding to individual governance budgets.

But let me make a plea: let us not forget that the most important qualification of all is passion for the cause. Many years ago, Labour peer Lord Judd remarked that passion should be the overriding force when helping at any level in a not-for-profit organisation. Personally, I cannot envisage giving of one's time and effort without a deep interest in the aims and work of the charity concerned.

Quite apart from the fact that it is really no effort to learn about the particular field, knowledge focuses trustees' sense of commitment on how their personal skills and expertise can best be used. It also brings a huge sense of fulfilment when they see that their contribution really has made a difference, however small.

But how would you come up with the right words to express all this on a trustee vacancies website?

- Judith Rich is the chair of Charity Appointments and the Diabetes Foundation, and a trustee of Relate and Reach.

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