Board Talk: How can Trustees' Week be a better recruitment tool?

Luke Strachan and John Gladwin discuss ways that charities can use the annual event

Board Talk
Board Talk

LS: There is a great need for trustees in charities across the UK at the moment. Our research shows that up to 51 per cent of charities face critical skill gaps, and many of these are on the board. Furthermore, there is a recognised need for greater diversity on boards. The good governance of an organisation is critical to its success, yet so many charities suffer from the shortage of trustees and the corresponding lack of skills needed for informed and effective governance and operation.

JG: We all need to invest in trustee development, so that the person in the role can develop through the exercise of the task - induction, training, appraisal and support come to mind. Trustees' Week could be used to advertise and promote good practice. What do trustees who are in post find works well? Where would they like to see change and gain further support?

LS: One of the key things to recognise is that many aspects of the debate about trusteeship are interlinked. For example, young trustees and board diversity are big topics in the sector now; simultaneously, people from minority and disadvantaged groups constitute a huge potential source of trustees. The trick is knowing how to engage these groups and to create partnerships that extend the concept of trusteeship beyond its current audience.

John Gladwin, former Bishop of Chelmsford, is chair of Citizens Advice and of the proposed Institute of ChairsJG: That's right. Those of us responsible for developing boards of trustees have to work hard on issues of diversity and representativeness - where you advertise, who you make opportunities available to and how you conduct your business really matter to young people and those from under-represented groups. We should get Trustees' Week into spheres that will help us to extend our range and provide opportunities for people to take on this role - for example, social media such as Twitter or key minority media websites and networks. Tokenism will not do: this is about change and culture shift.

uke Strachan is manager of TrusteeWorks, the trustee recruitment service of the skilled volunteering charity ReachLS: The stereotypical image of a trustee is of the white, retired male.

Giving Trustees' Week a skills focus could help us show the groups we are trying to reach that their skills are transferable and that they can make a valuable contribution to a charity or community group that interests them. I think the key to turning Trustees' Week into a tool to facilitate further interest in trusteeship - apart from trustee speed-dating and other such events - is for charities to work more closely with each other.

It can't be left to infrastructural organisations alone to make it happen. Large federated charities such as Citizens Advice can also get involved by spreading the word about trusteeship to their service users.

JG: I agree. We have more than 3,000 trustees in Citizens Advice bureaux in England and Wales. We are in the midst of considering how to strengthen this role and enable and support these people. At a national level, and in many bureaux, we are well past the 'retired white male' syndrome - although, as one myself, I hope there is a role for a few of us! We could do more to publicise the changes that are taking place. One of the challenges of contemporary trusteeship is the time commitment.

LS: This is a bigger issue than most people think. Charities could gain a lot through engaging with the private and public sectors, using Trustees' Week as a way to inform businesses about the career benefits that can come from experience gained as a trustee.

JG: That is an important point. What is often missed is what people can gain in their professional and public lives from contributing to the work of this sector in a voluntary way. If we can achieve that without compromising the need for social and cultural diversity, that would be great.

LS: Given the size of Trustees' Week a couple of years ago, the event has come a long way. Regarding the recruitment of trustees, it is difficult to say how a single week in the year can have the impact that we need. So I believe that charities should use Trustees' Week as an excuse to approach stakeholders, members and service users and educate them about what trusteeship is and how valuable it is to both the participant and to society at large.

Luke Strachan is manager of TrusteeWorks, the trustee recruitment service of the skilled volunteering charity Reach and John Gladwin, the former Bishop of Chelmsford, is chair of Citizens Advice and of the proposed Institute of Chairs

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