As many as 74% of charities nationally have said they struggle to find new trustees. At the same time, we read that only 10% of trustee vacancies are openly advertised. This is because most opportunities are only spoken about within existing trustees’ often-closed networks, on the golf course, down the pub (now we’re allowed back inside), in their club, mostly to people already known to the existing trustee. Charities wouldn’t appoint a CEO that way, but persist with these routes for trustees, who are arguably even more important! How can recruiting this way allow the best people to become trustees?
Solving the problem of a lack of diversity
Is the lack of diversity on many boards really surprising? UK charity boards are 92% White, 67% male, mostly over 60, middle-class and highly-educated. No one even seems to know about disabled trustees or people from LBGTQ+ communities. How many good, talented and hardworking potential trustees are being excluded as a result? And this is in a sector that often works with marginalised communities and supposedly understands those intersectionalities of discrimination and lack of power. (Data: Getting On Board 2020; Taken On Trust: Charity Commission 2017; nfpSynergy 2016).
inTRUSTed is a programme set up to assist charities across the Thames Valley recruit more trustees. Increasingly, we are emphasising how easy it is to interest people from across all parts of society. Many of the Boards we work with have those narrow demographics, though a slightly higher proportion of smaller organisations (under £500k) with whom we’ve worked have women leaders and, sometimes, Chairs.
Support with writing job ads
Part of our service is to write, or adapt, Role Descriptions and Person Specifications, to produce interesting and attractive adverts for those trustee roles. Soon after inTRUSTed’s inception in early 2019, we added active requests for more diverse applicants. Most Boards accepted that – no one wants to be seen to say ‘we don’t want diversity’. But we still weren’t sure that, for example, younger trustees or those from ethnically-diverse communities wouldn’t be just appointed as ‘the diversity candidate.’ They might be expected to completely represent their ‘community’, their demographic descriptor.
We don’t seem to have problems getting our adverts in front of candidates from ethnically-diverse communities, younger people, women, LBGTQ+ people, or people with disabilities. When know this from the broad diversity of people who request information and who then apply for trustee positions.
Educating about diversity
Much of inTRUSTed’s work has been with existing trustees to explain how diversity of experience and diversity of thought will better support their charity’s beneficiaries (almost 60% of charities aren’t representative of the communities they serve). And at last, ‘lived experience’ is starting to be understood as not only valuable, but vital.
We still struggle to convince Chairs and CEOs–those most likely tasked with looking–to openly recruit and use our, or similar services, as finding new Board members seems always to be important, but never urgent: funding and making sure the toilets are working are always more urgent.
Successes to date
inTRUSTed feels we have been quite successful in attracting people of colour (8% of all trustees, nationally; 21% our applicants; 19% of trustees appointed through us); women (33% nationally; 45% our applicants; 47% appointed as trustees) and younger people (8% nationally; 20% appointed as trustees), albeit this is a small sample size (~150 applications, ~50 trustees appointed; 2019-to date). This isn’t to say that we’ve solved the problems – we’ve just consciously addressed the first symptoms; although campaigns, against for example racism, such as Black Lives Matter, have raised the visibility of inequality, having a diverse Board doesn’t mean anyone is home and dry.
For all that seeming success, we, and the charities we work with, don’t always get it right – 2021 quote from a young, female, trustee of colour:
“Unfortunately, I felt there were a few too many times where I was being excluded from decision making, along with my perspective not fully being taken on board. Whilst I did my best to continue it did become uncomfortable for me, especially as you have said volunteering is giving your time.”
Our focus for the future
Charity Boards, the trustees we recruit, and ourselves at inTRUSTed, all have much more to do: Equity, Diversity and Inclusion seems to be the current flavour-of-the-month, when it must become the norm. The culture, inclusivity and behaviour of a Board is far more important than how diverse it is.
Our thoughts and actions have been well-informed by many others working to widen trusteeship, including Getting On Board, Action for Trustee Racial Diversity, the Young Trustees Movement, Women on Boards, Inclusive Boards, and the brand-new Trustee Recruitment Cycle, plus regular online discussions from Small Charities Coalition, the Association of Chairs and NCVO, among many others.
After all, if the corporate sector and UK Ministers can extol the benefit of diverse Board members for to profit-making companies, why is the voluntary and community sector still dragging our collective feet?