Seven steps for recruiting a new trustee

Finding a board member with the right skills can be a challenge, so a thorough recruitment process is essential, writes Luke Strachan of Reach Volunteering

Luke Strachan
Luke Strachan

Given that the needs of a board are are constantly changing, recruiting new trustees is an ongoing issue for most non-profits. Finding someone who has the right skills and experience, a connection with your cause and enough free time to make a genuine contribution can be a daunting task. Getting your board to agree on a structured and thorough approach to recruitment is one of the most effective ways to ensure that the long-term governance of your organisation is secure, efficient, well rounded and ready to take on whatever challenges lie ahead. So how do you do it? Here are my suggestions:

Be clear about your needs

The first step of any recruitment process is to identify what you need. Think about the direction of the organisation, upcoming projects and the challenges you may face in the future, and decide what kind of expertise the board will need to make good and informed decisions on these issues.

Draw up a role description – and make it interesting

When describing the role to potential candidates, try to avoid focusing on the standard duties of a trustee. Instead, highlight the most interesting aspects of being on the board at your charity, pointing out the challenges the organisation faces and its future prospects. This will breathe life into the role and give candidates a sense of what issues they will be engaging with. It’s also a good idea to describe the impact the new trustee will have within the organisation, and what benefits they can expect to receive.

Advertise far and wide

Many organisations still limit their recruitment process to their personal network of connections. While this may save a little time and effort, in the long run it’s much more beneficial to look further afield in order to attract a diverse range of quality applicants. Advertise externally using online job boards, post the vacancy on social media, create a dedicated page on your website and don’t rule out using a recruitment service. There are a whole host of free resources out there that help non-profits source trustees from a broader pool of candidates:  Small Charities Coalition Trustee Finder, Do-It, TrusteeWorks, and NCVO Trustee Bank to name but a few.

Communication, communication, communication

Due to the voluntary nature of the role, it’s wrong to assume that an applicant will remain interested indefinitely, particularly if there is a significant gap between applications and interviews. Taking the time to thank candidates for their application and to set out a clear timeframe for the process reinforces the professional approach of your organisation and helps retain a candidate’s interest up until the interview.

Shortlist your preferred applicants

Your shortlisting and interview process should be structured, and the whole board should be involved in reviewing applications. CVs and covering letters cannot be trusted as definitive endorsements of either a person’s skills or their personality, so give candidates a phone call to discuss informallytheir viability for the role before deciding on a shortlist.    

Conduct an open and constructive interview

Take the time to draw up questions that relate specifically to your organisation’s requirements and those of the role itself. Don’t be afraid to ask about an interviewee’s motivations, and invite searching questions from the candidate. This open approach will elicit real answers to real questions while allowing the candidate’s personality to shine through. If there are still minor question marks over a potential trustee, invite them to join board meetings as an observer. It’s better to make sure you have the right person in place through careful induction than to end up with a trustee that doesn’t fit the bill.

Give your new recruit a thorough induction

Hooray! You’ve chosen a new board member. This is great news, but your work isn’t done yet. To make sure that your new trustee takes the role seriously and is empowered to work to the best of their ability you need to ensure that they have an in-depth understanding of how the organisation functions. Make sure they have a copy of the memorandum and articles of association. If they are new to trusteeship, direct them to the appropriate resources so that they are completely clear about their responsibilities. Arrange an opportunity to meet the staff and, most importantly, the chief executive, so that they can get a feel for who runs the organisation and how they do it.

It’s really useful to touch base with the new trustee 3-6 months after their appointment. This is usually undertaken by the chair in a private setting that allows any issues or concerns to arise outside the scrutiny of the board. This is also a really valuable moment to take stock of the trustee’s initial impressions; remember that they bring a fresh pair of eyes to the practices of the board, the culture of the organisation and its future prospects. For this reason, it may well be the case that they have noticed things which longstanding board members have not.

Luke Strachan is TrusteeWorks manager at Reach Volunteering

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