Editorial: Trustees need management on their side

Stephen Cook, editor

After the Year of the Volunteer, do we perhaps need a Year of the Trustee?

Most trustees are, of course, volunteers, but they are a precious and vital variety of the breed, and a lot of evidence has emerged recently that all is not well in their part of the forest.

Recent Charity Commission research revealed inadequate recruitment methods and imbalances of age and ethnicity. And now a report from accountants and business advisers PKF and the Charity Finance Directors' Group points up a range of problems in this area.

One crucial aspect is the relationship between trustees and managers, and their perception of each other. Nearly half the respondents to the PKF/CFDG survey said the key factor limiting the effectiveness of governance in their charity was 'trustee skills mix' followed by 'trustee knowledge of charity requirements', 'lack of fresh ideas' and 'dominance of individuals'. Although 40 per cent thought there were no key barriers to improving the effectiveness of the trustee-management relationship, 25 per cent cited 'insufficient trustee input', 20 per cent 'insufficient direct contact', 17 per cent 'trustees too involved in management' and - ominously - nearly 10 per cent 'lack of trust'.

The survey showed that induction for trustees is often informal, and 20 per cent of respondents said there was no induction at all. A quarter said they provided compulsory training for trustees, but a similar proportion said there was no training at all. Ten per cent had neither induction nor training.

Most respondents were managers rather than trustees. PKF said that, "although there is a tendency for management to be critical of trustee knowledge and skills, the management duty to ensure they are equipped to do their role is not being recognised or met". In broad terms, it looks as if, in a significant number of charities, trustees aren't seen to be winning and managers aren't really enabling them to win.

Management tasks are endless, but this is surely one that shouldn't be shirked. The Charity Commission is conducting a 'Get on Board' drive to recruit trustees more widely, and the new and as yet unproved governance hub may come up with tools and templates to make it easier for managers to provide proper support for trustees. Overall, it seems as if a big push is required to improve governance. And perhaps a key part of it is to stop asking what your trustees can do for you and ask instead what you can do for your trustees.

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