Opinion: Hot issue - Should voluntary organisations pay trustees?

At a debate at last week's Chase 2006 exhibition, Stephen Bubb, the chief executive of Acevo, proposed the motion that trustees should be paid if charities so wish. Lord Phillips of Sudbury argued against the idea.


No they should not. If I wanted paid board members, I'd work for a company.

It's one of the reasons we are called the 'voluntary sector' and it's what makes us unique. Where would it stop - "I'd like to be a school governor, but only if you pay me"?

The moment you start paying your board you will lose more than you gain.

As a chief executive, I want trustees who are with the charity because of the cause.

The real issue here is that in the UK we are poor in the stewardship of our boards and we do not spend enough time finding the right trustees in the first place. When we do, we should be spending time and, if necessary, money on developing them into the kind of board members we want. We are also not putting in place appropriate measures to keep the boards fresh and productive.

Building a board is like building a team - they have to be able to work together, be motivated and play to their strengths. They need to know what is expected of them from the outset and that it's not just about attendance at meetings. It's about being available at the end of the phone, getting involved in advocacy and being one of your premier volunteers.


I was part of a working party at Acevo and I was astonished to find that people who were trustees on boards of substantial organisations such as the National Trust were not being paid.

If you want to attract capable people, particularly people under 40 with rent or a mortgage to pay, with finance, business or management expertise, then you have to pay them.

The RSA research I was involved in found that there was virtually nobody under the age of 40 on trustee boards in the voluntary sector, and that most were over 50 and retired.

You cannot expect these people to be up to date with marketing and IT, or know their way around PR and the media or anything that is constantly evolving.

Our society has changed. Trained professionals are unlikely to have time on their hands. Charities need to recognise that they are competing for capable people and should not expect them to offer their services for free. The tide is going against voluntarism and moving towards professionalism.


The trustees of voluntary organisations should offer governance, guidance and direction, which are all best given on a voluntary basis. Trustees also set the tone for the type of charity they represent and, by being voluntary, they send out a positive message to that organisation's staff, its volunteers and everyone it comes into contact with, that they are there for the right reasons.

Although it is true that today's charities have to be more businesslike and professional than they once were, which is as it should be, this mustn't be allowed to detract from their reason for existing: to offer their services free of charge to those who need it - in our case, patients and those who care for them.

In an age in which we seem to have lost our trust in politicians, industry and even the media, voluntary organisations, in particular for site-specific issues, provide a beacon of hope to people who often have, or feel they have, nowhere else to turn.

Charity begins at home - in voluntary organisations, charity begins with its trustees.

If they lead by example and offer their services voluntarily, more people are likely to follow and support the causes they represent.


One of the great things about the voluntary sector is its diversity, which makes it difficult to give a categorical answer that will apply across the breadth of the sector.

A better answer might be "not in normal circumstances", because there are some organisations out there where a case for payment of trustees is valid. Yet for the largest part of the sector, voluntarism is at the heart of organisations and of their governance arrangements.

To change this would be to risk losing the sector's character and its public support. Some argue that the voluntary nature of trusteeship might discourage individuals from diverse backgrounds from getting involved, but this argument applies across the whole of volunteering.

I believe there is more we can do to encourage these individuals through promoting the benefits of trusteeship and encouraging employers to recognise it as a development opportunity for employees. I believe strongly that voluntary organisations and their funders should invest in governance through board development, but this does not have to be through payment of trustees.

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