Simple steps towards diversity on your trustee board

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Author's position
Article date
5 April 2016
Primary interest
Voluntary sector

It’s not a new phenomenon for charity trustee boards to want to move away from the ‘pale, male and stale’ image that they are often – and sometimes unfairly – labelled with.  Yet, many still struggle to diversify and their typical recruitment strategy remains word-of-mouth which, unsurprisingly, results in more of the same.diversity

Less than 1% of trustees are aged 18-24, only 43% are women, and trustees with a disability or who come from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds are scarce in mainstream charities today.  According to a recent Charities Aid Foundation report, “At present, trustees in the UK are not representative of the population… To understand the charity’s beneficiaries properly and serve them effectively, it needs a diverse range of people from a variety of backgrounds.”

The benefits of a more diverse trustee board include:

  • Decisions made are more likely to reflect the communities the charity exists to serve
  • A far broader range of views, ideas and perspectives create healthy debate and a dynamic that can refresh not just the Trustee Board but across the organisation
  • Nurturing the next generation of trustees, especially through recruiting young trustees.  According to David Robb of the Scottish Charity Regulator, “Charities…benefit from the talent, passion and thinking of a new generation who are keen…to make a real difference within their community and further afield.”
  • Making the charity more attractive to funders who are increasingly looking for diversity at all levels

Diversifying a trustee board is something that any charity can achieve, and through a number of relatively simple actions that can piggyback what it’s already doing.

Recruitment

Advertise widely and include non-traditional avenues such as Twitter and Facebook.  Remember that RVA can help advertise your trustee vacancies too.

Give a simple but informative information pack to anyone interested in joining your trustee board – written in plain English and possibly other formats such as Easyread for candidates with a learning disability.

Have a designated person with good people skills to follow up on anyone showing an interest.  RVA is still hearing from potential trustees who contacted charities and didn’t hear anything back from them.

Contact a variety of organisations that support the communities that are underrepresented on your board.  Let them know you are recruiting and would be glad to hear from their members or service users.  Ryan Campbell, Chair of Mind, reflects ”We were open about where we had this gap, we approached organisations that work with ethnically diverse communities to help us, and get the word out – and we advertised for people with experience of working with diverse communities.”  However, as Tesse Akpeki, a legal and governance consultant with the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), warns against tokenism. “This shouldn’t just be done because it’s nice, because it’s PC.”

Induction

Provide a basic induction programme to ease new trustees into the kinds of tasks and subject areas that your trustees are involved in.

Set up a buddy, mentoring or shadowing scheme – this works particularly well with young trustees.

Ask new recruits what they want from their time on your board.

Meetings

The formal language of the boardroom can be very ‘corporate’ – fine for ex-executives but not so for people who are unfamiliar with this environment.

When and where you hold a meeting will affect who can show up.  Younger people are more likely to make weekend meetings and people with restricted mobility will need accessible venues.

Offer to pay expenses as this may be a barrier to people on low incomes.

Prepare your existing trustees

Find out what diversifying the board will mean to them, what issues they think will arise with a more diverse range of people and what ideas they have to support new recruits.

If one of the driving forces behind diversifying a trustee board is to broaden who influences the direction and development of the charity, there are other ways of harnessing a wider range of voices.  Focus groups, advisory bodies and short-term working groups may be more appealing to some people than having to make the longer term commitment of becoming a trustee.  And, having dipped their toes in this way, they may end up wanting to join your board anyway.

If you are a Reading charity, help is on hand.  RVA would like to hear from any voluntary or community organisation wishing to attract a more diverse range of trustees.  If you would like to find out more about the training, information, advice and networking events that are available through the year to support local charities, contact us on advice@rva.org.uk.