BoardsCount 2007 says that trustee recruitment and training remain "amateurish" and that half of board members feel they don't have the right balance of skills and experience on their boards to do the job. It also finds that few boards set aside resources to address the problem.
"Boards probably think that their job is to spend money on their beneficiaries, not on themselves," said John Tierney, author of the research and a consultant at Transform.
"They don't realise that careful spending on themselves could result in improvements for the organisation."
Half of the board members questioned say they understand exactly where their organisations are in terms of delivering their strategies. But only a quarter of trustees are required to revise their governance performance periodically, and recruiting is still overwhelmingly done using informal methods.
However, the survey also finds that governance in the sector is improving. The majority of voluntary groups have effective governance mechanisms in place and boards fulfil their function, it reports.
Charities had to pay to take part in the survey, but the Governance Hub subsidised fees for smaller organisations.
All participants received individual reports so that they could gauge their performance against that of the sector. The exercise will be repeated annually.