Trustees have serious concerns about how the performance of their boards is reviewed, according to a survey by chief executives body Acevo.
Forty-nine per cent of those trustees who responded rated their own board's performance review as less than satisfactory. Only 10 per cent rated it better than satisfactory.
"It's a massive worry," said Seb Elsworth, director of strategy at Acevo. "Boards not looking at their performance is one of the major problems in the sector."
He said the situation was likely to be even worse than the survey suggested, because it was based on a self-selecting sample of 200 trustees, whose decision to take part indicated that they took governance more seriously than most.
"The vast majority of charities do not have any mechanism to review board performance," said Elsworth.
Trustees rated their boards' performance in 28 areas highlighted by the Code of Good Governance, which outlines best practice for voluntary organisations.
Thirty per cent rated the handling of the chief executive's remuneration as unsatisfactory or very unsatisfactory.
Elsworth said chief executives' pay was often left to the chair, and many trustees wanted more input. "The annual appraisal process should set measures by which chief executives are remunerated," he said.
The survey also uncovered concerns about succession planning at board level and the responsibilities of sub-committees.
On the positive side, trustees rated their boards highly on integrity, dealing with conflicts of interest and maintaining independence.
The survey follows last month's New Philanthropy Capital report Board Matters, which described charity governance as haphazard and badly managed. Governance consultant Tesse Akpeki said she was worried that the two surveys might deter people from becoming trustees. "The findings don't surprise me," she said. "They are a worry, but there is so much despondency and even depression among boards at the moment that it is putting people off.
"When I speak to boards, they say they know they have got to get better. But this negativity is making volunteers less willing to serve on boards.
"We can't afford to let the pool of trustees dry up, so we shouldn't keep hitting them over the head."