Opinion: Hot issue - Should more charities advertise when they recruit their trustees?

The gay rights charity Stonewall has decided to hold an open recruitment process for the first time in 16 years. Is this better than just waiting for applicants or taking on people the chief executive has met at a party?

YES - Nick Brooks, head of not-for-profit, Kingston Smith

Charities should advertise when they recruit trustees in the same way they would for any other role.

Charities are more likely to find someone with the requisite skills and enthusiasm through placing an advert for the role, rather than relying on contacts or word of mouth. Advertising in the trade press should lead to the selection of potential candidates for the charity to choose from against their selection criteria, rather than settling for a contact who may or may not be the most appropriate person for the role in terms of skills, passion for the cause and cultural fit.

The genuine interest, independence and fresh perspective that an unknown candidate can bring to a role should not be underestimated. Of course, there can be occasions when someone known to the charity is the best person for the job, particularly if the charity needs very specific skills - legal or financial, for example. Even in this situation, is it not better to be able to compare this candidate with a number of others before making a final decision?

Now is probably a good time for charities to review their processes for the recruitment of trustees, because this will in future have to be disclosed in the Trustees Report to comply with the Sorp 2005.

YES - Kathleen Duncan, director general, Lloyds TSB Foundation

Since 1998, the Lloyds TSB Foundation for England and Wales has advertised for all trustee appointments, and we believe that open advertising can play a key role in effective corporate governance.

Our goal is to attract applications from wide sections of the community rather than being restricted to existing networks. We regularly review the skills, interests and experience of serving trustees to ensure that gaps are identified when vacancies arise. Our board's age range and gender balance have improved as a result.

There are, however, issues to consider when adopting open advertising.

For example, processing applications and interviewing can take a considerable amount of staff time, and there are also advertising expenses to be taken into account. Charities do not necessarily have the human resources or funds required to do this. It may also be necessary to tailor advertising to appropriate channels - for example, we have used regional media and press that cover disability issues. Charities need to consider which recruitment channels will ensure that trustees have the right mix of skills, understand the organisational ethos and reflect the communities they serve.

YES - Gail Scott-Spicer, deputy chief executive, Acevo

The Higgs Review of governance exposed the recruitment failures of corporate boardrooms, finding that 50 per cent of non-executives were recruited through personal contacts. This 'golf club culture' was roundly condemned by analysts, who called for greater boardroom diversity and more representation from the public and third sectors.

But condemning the corporate sector is all too easy - the third sector has conspicuously failed to get its own house in order. Charity Commission figures show that 84 per cent of the largest charities still recruit through word of mouth and personal contacts, with only 11 per cent advertising and 2 per cent using trustee broker services. Two-thirds don't provide job descriptions for their trustees.

This is an antiquated and amateurish approach to trustee recruitment.

Charities want to be judged on impact, not just on good intentions. This means we need a bigger talent pool for our boards. It's high time we abandoned the view that a penny spent on good governance is a penny wasted.

For a sector that is supposedly committed to diversity at all levels, it is shocking that open recruitment such as Stonewall's is newsworthy as the exception rather than the norm.

YES - Linda Laurance, chair, Charity Trustee Networks

There is a perception in the voluntary and community sector that trustees are hard to find - Charity Trustee Networks frequently receives requests for help. One reason for this is that many trustee boards persist in using old methods for finding trustees, in particular word of mouth or by approaching high-profile members of the local community whom they perceive as potentially adding value.

Organisations are at risk if the skills needed for an acceptable level of governance are not available to the trustees. If there are paid staff, they may suffer from lack of direction and from poor decision-making by their trustees. It is both unacceptable and counterproductive to ignore diversity in relation to board membership.

If organisations are to attract new trustees with the necessary skills, experience and understanding of governance from a broad cross-section of the population, they must be more creative in their recruitment methods.

Investing in advertising in carefully selected media and targeting several sections of the community is a justifiable use of charity funds. More charities should seriously consider going down this route, as Charity Trustees Network itself has recently done.

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