EDITORIAL: Boards seeking diversity have to widen the search

Lucy Maggs

For boards to reflect the society in which they operate, they need to have a cross-section of members from different backgrounds and age groups. But boards are still usually middle-aged, middle-class and predominantly white. For charities to be innovative and dynamic they need a reservoir of ideas, and a diverse board can play an important role in this.

A good board should also reflect the client group the organisation serves.

If it is not possible to have representatives on the board it is important that trustees have some kind of contact with service users. Children's charity NCH, when recruiting new board members, brought in a group of young people to help select the new trustees.

This kind of scheme not only benefits the board, making their work with the organisation much more rewarding, but also gives the beneficiaries a greater sense of ownership and empowerment.

For smaller charities, though, it can be a struggle just recruiting enough trustees to fit around a table, let alone making sure they are from the right backgrounds and age ranges. There may be queues of people wanting to serve on the board of the NSPCC, but getting people to give up their evenings to help run a small drug-rehabilitation organisation isn't so easy.

There are people who would be keen to become trustees, but many are put off as they don't fully understand what the role really involves, and don't know how to find a charity to get involved with.

There are services available to help charities recruit trustees, including Youthnet, which is specifically focused on young people, but small charities are not always aware of them. Perhaps the Government, considering its enthusiasm to get people to volunteer, could start educating the public about how important and rewarding it is to be a trustee, and how best to go about it.

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