As few as one in four charities runs induction training for trustees. Alex Blyth finds out why this is the case and looks at the options for charities that want to bring their trustees up to speed
In 1992 the NCVO report On Trust revealed that only one in five charity trustees received any sort of induction training. It was a worrying statistic, but it seems that little has changed 18 years later.
A joint NCVO/Open University study in 2001 found that the proportion had edged up to one in four, and in 2005 the Charity Commission reported that a growing number of charities were providing induction training, but it was still very patchy and at many smaller charities was still more or less non-existent.
Most agree that this happens simply because of a shortage of resources. There are, after all, more than a million charity trustees in the UK. That is a lot of people for an already stretched sector to train. Furthermore, trustees are volunteers and many of them have busy lives outside their charity work. Many charities would identify with Judith Monk, chairman of Hastings & Rother YMCA, who says: "We are a small charity and we have our own trustee induction programme, but our problem is that all our trustees are too busy to go the training courses that would help them."
Not all charity executives believe this is acceptable. One chief executive of a disability charity based in Buckinghamshire, who wished to remain anonymous, said: "Generally I find trustees are not very willing to inform themselves. I constantly tell them about free courses they can go on, but hardly any of them have ever bothered to attend. To get the knowledge they need to be effective trustees, people have to go out, find courses and make the effort to attend. Far too few people are willing to make this effort; they expect to have it all spoonfed to them."
Whatever the reason for this shortfall in trustee induction training, it is vitally important, not only for the charities, but also for the trustees involved. As Simon Wethered, a consultant at the law firm Charles Russell, points out: "Charity trustees of unincorporated charities are personally liable for any losses or insolvency suffered by the organisation. Furthermore, if trustees breach the trust of the charity by letting it do things it was not set up to do, or if they let the charity's assets go outside the charity sector other than for full value, they can be made personally liable."
Ben Kernighan, deputy chief executive of umbrella body the NCVO, says: "Every induction should be tailored to individual trustees, taking into account their existing knowledge of trusteeship, the organisation and its mission. But there are key components that should be included in almost all trustee inductions. They should be provided with the hard facts, such as the charity's governing documents, information on its ways of working, minutes of previous board meetings and the dates of future AGMs."
Kernighan says there should also be a softer side to the induction process. "This is all about getting the new trustee to feel part of an organisation and to know where it is headed," he says. "The trustee should be introduced to other trustees and to key executives. He or she should spend some time on the ground observing the work of the charity. Finally, every new trustee should be assigned a more experienced trustee as a mentor."
There are many organisations that offer advice and assistance on devising and implementing trustee inductions. The NCVO is a partner in Trustees Unlimited, which offers a full recruitment and induction package for between £3,500 and £5,500. CharitySkills offers a range of training courses to be delivered at your premises, including inducting trustees. The Charity Trustee Network runs open training courses around the country on aspects of trusteeship, and they cost less than £200 per person.
But a charity need not spend anything on its trustee inductions. Every February, CTN runs a free two-day workshop for new trustees. Two relevant Charity Commission guidance documents, The Essential Trustee: What you need to know and The Essential Trustee: An introduction, are available on its website. Most importantly, however, the largest part of trustee induction can and should be done by members of the charity: other trustees, senior executives and volunteers.
It takes time and commitment on all sides, but it is time well spent. As Jacqui Francis, chair of Birmingham Voluntary Service Council, a third sector support agency that provides trustee training, says: "High-quality induction training for trustees is essential in order to make sure trustees make decisions that are financially sound and in the best interests of the communities we serve. Negligence is not an option."