Case study: How to get top-notch board members

The drug charity Addaction asked a recruitment agency to find trustees with specific skills.

The challenge

Addaction wanted to widen the skills base of its trustee board and recruit people who might not necessarily have thought about becoming charity trustees before, with backgrounds in professions such as human resources, finance and communications.

The process

The drug and alcohol treatment charity carried out an audit of its board at the beginning of the year to identify the skills it needed and areas where it was lacking. This was done internally using governance material from the NCVO. From the results, the board and HR team estimated they would need to recruit five or six new trustees.

In May, the charity decided to hire a 'search and selection' agency to recruit trustees. The charity felt an agency would have better contacts and would help the charity reach a wider audience than it would if it placed adverts in the press.

The HR team used the same agency it had used to recruit a new chief executive in 2005. Addaction didn't put the trustee contract out to tender, but it did approach a number of agencies to fill the chief executive role and went with the best bid.

The agency, Hodes Public Services, used a headhunting approach to find candidates. It telephoned clients on its database and asked if they would be interested. If they weren't, agency staff asked if they could recommend anyone who might be.

The results

The agency produced a short list of 17 candidates.

"We were absolutely gobsmacked with the quality," said Guy Pink, HR director at Addaction. Candidates included the chief executive of HSBC Insurance Brokers, the director of citizenship and diversity at Microsoft and the director of HR and corporate services at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Interviews were carried out over the summer and six trustees were appointed in September. According to Pink, the agency's fees were roughly equivalent to the cost of hiring a senior executive, but the cost-per-hire ratio was extremely good.

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