The research found that 39 per cent of charities find it difficult to fill trustee vacancies at least some of the time, compared with 31 per cent in a similar survey in 2001. Among large charities the proportion rises to 46 per cent, and among very large charities to 57 per cent.
Meanwhile, recruiting of trustees by word of mouth or personal recommendation is practised by 81 per cent of charities - an increase on the 2001 figure of 68 per cent.
"Recruitment solely by word of mouth or personal recommendation can result in a board that is not diverse and can give a perception of exclusivity, which alienates the charity's users and wider stakeholders," said the commission's report on the research.
The report said these findings were disappointing, but others were more encouraging: more charities are doing a skills audit before recruiting (17 per cent, compared with 11 per cent in 2001), use job descriptions (22 per cent, compared with 18) and use a dedicated committee to recruit trustees (16 per cent, compared with 12).
The survey of 3,000 charities of all sizes also found that 30 per cent of charities find it difficult to attract young people as trustees.
The commission's database shows that only 0.5 per cent of trustees are under 24 and 76 per cent are over 45. Four out of 10 are above the age of 60.
"Again, charities that wish to increase the diversity of the trustee board may need to think of alternative, wider methods of recruitment," the report said.
Thirty-nine per cent of charities do not provide new trustees with a copy of the governing document, and there has been a drop (to 23 per cent from 33 per cent four years ago) in the proportion of charities that make checks on prospective trustees.
"Some people are legally disqualified from acting as trustees," said the report. "We expect charities to check that prospective trustees are eligible to act."
Geraldine Peacock, commission chair, said the report offered "some fascinating new insights".
Linda Laurance, chair of Charity Trustee Networks, said trustee recruitment remained "one of the areas of greatest concern" to boards and management committees.
The report can be found at www.charitycommission.gov.uk under 'publications'.
- See Editorial, page 22.