Market for trustee support is not functioning effectively, Charity Commission finds

A report on external support for trustees says too few board members seek external support and the market does not function well anyway

Too few trustees are seeking external support in their role and the market for providing support is not functioning effectively, says a report published by the Charity Commission today.

The report, Taken on Trust: The Provider Perspective on Advice and Support for Charity Trustees, was published alongside the wider Taken on Trust report, which looked at the make-up, skills and concerns of trustee boards across the sector.

For support provider report, researchers surveyed 167 organisations that provide support and training for trustees, including consultancies, specialist charities, umbrella bodies and local infrastructure bodies.

The report says: "Trustees do not appear to be taking up the support offered by the respondents to this survey in large numbers. A complex interplay between supply and demand emerges.

"There are issues pertaining to both demand for support (trustees unaware of the gaps in their own skills and knowledge) and the supply of support services (support not being provided in the right ways, or not been marketed due to fear of creating demand)."

As a result "the market for support and advice is not functioning well", the report says.

These findings were mirrored in the wider report on trustees, which found that trustees tended to seek support and advice from each other, with 80 per cent of trustees interviewed regarding their peers as their most important internal source of advice and support, and only 6 per cent seeking guidance or training from external providers.

The provider report says providers had raised concerns about the accessibility of the information on offer.

"Providers described challenges around not just the amount and type of support on offer, but also identifying and accessing that support, particularly for organisations with an inability to pay," it says.

"Concerns around the lack of signposting and/or lack of a central hub of information came up repeatedly. These also related to how accessible the information was.

The provider report says there are "clear gaps in the effectiveness and confidence of charity boards".

It says: "In small charities, board skills gaps are perceived by providers to be especially acute due to informal processes of trustee recruitment, lack of resources and wider challenges around organisational development."

To deal with the issue, the Charity Commission should communicate with trustees electronically and should ensure as much of its support as possible was available online, according to the report.

It also calls for umbrella bodies to offer more effective signposting of support and to create a web-based marketplace for support providers to allow trustees to compare what is on offer.

It says charities should be supported to make trustee recruitment more formal, planned and transparent.

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