How to Work Out What You Need on Your Board of Trustees

Has one of your trustees recently resigned? Or could your board do with a boost before your charity faces a new challenge? The recipe for the most effective board of trustees that can meet your charity’s needs is a good mix of different characteristics and practical skills. But it can be difficult to work out what this ideal combination is. In fact, only 43% of charities involved in Getting on Board’s Trustee Recruitment Pathways programme said they felt partly or well-equipped to deal with the challenges their charity is facing.

So how do you work out exactly what you need on your board of trustees?

The right combination of people

A trustee stepping down is a good opportunity to evaluate your board, make sure you have the right people on it and that it’s being as effective as possible. The ‘right’ combination of people will depend on the charity’s purpose, vision and current strategy and this will change over time, so recruiting on a like-for-like basis won’t necessarily be the best strategy. You should also make sure you’re fully-utilising all the skills of your current board. If you have members willing to take on more responsibility in the future, then upskilling them could be part of your succession plan.

The right skills

There are lots of general skills needed for a trustee board including hard skills such as finance, legal, communications and fundraising, and soft skills like problem-solving, analytical skills and negotiation. It’s important to make sure you have these covered, but you also need to have the relevant knowledge and experience specific to your charity’s cause and the challenges it faces.

Conducting a skills audit

A good way to establish what you need is to conduct a skills audit. This is a simple exercise to help you identify the skills, experience and knowledge you already have on your board and to work out what else might be necessary or useful. It involves collating information about each trustee, what they bring to the panel and the skills they offer.

It’s sensible to carry out this exercise before beginning recruitment of any new trustee but it can also be useful to do it once a year, or any time there’s a significant change in the circumstances of the charity. This is because it can help to identify future gaps, as well as current ones.

Skills audits are also useful for trustees individually, so they can uncover any gaps in their own skills and knowledge and can seek training to upskill themselves where necessary.

So how do you do one?

Identify what you already have

First, you need to identify the skills you already have on your panel. This exercise could be part of a board meeting, done in smaller groups of trustees, or one-on-one with the Chair of the board. Rather than simply making a list, it could be helpful to score each skill or characteristic from one to five to highlight where you have the strongest skills base and where further expertise might be useful.

Establish your challenges and opportunities

Next, in the same way, list the challenges and opportunities the charity is likely to face in the next few years. This will be influenced by its strategy, along with operational factors and external influences. Does your strategy involve operating in new areas? Are there any changes to the fundraising landscape that will have an impact? What is likely to happen to public awareness of your cause?

Then ask yourselves which skills and qualities you will need on the board to adequately deal with what’s ahead. What would happen if other trustees stepped down? Would that change things further?

Colleagues standing in a small group discussing something while laughing. Two of the women are holding notebooks.

Prioritise any gaps

You will most likely find yourselves with a gap between the skills and experience you currently have on the board and what you might need in the next few years. Use your list of challenges and opportunities to prioritise the impact these gaps might have.

Make a plan

Then it’s time to think about how you can get the missing skills and experience you need. You may find you need to recruit more than one new trustee to target the attributes you’ve identified. But there are also other options. Could you ask someone with certain skills to join the board for a short time to complete a particular task or project? Could you upskill some of your existing board members through training, mentoring or shadowing other trustees? It’s also worth keeping in mind that you may need to be diplomatic with existing trustees over the skills and experience you need.

This exercise will help you decide if you do need to recruit new trustees (and how many you need). Then the skills, experience and knowledge that you’ve identified you’re missing from the board will help inform the ‘person specification’ for your new trustee role(s). Getting on Board has templates available to help you conduct a skills audit, that you can personalise to your charity.

Diversity

Don’t forget to consider this throughout the audit process. Diversity isn’t just about protected characteristics, it’s also about diversity of thought and experience. You need a good mix of people with different skills and characteristics who can cover the whole spectrum of expertise needed, and who can also challenge each other’s thinking and opinions in the right way.

Does your board reflect the backgrounds and experiences of your beneficiaries? Does it include people who have lived experience of the issues your charity supports? Attracting more diverse trustees could give you a broader range of experience that could enhance your board.

Accessibility

If you want to attract more diverse candidates then you need to make the role accessible for them. There are many ways of doing this, such as using more inclusive language in your advert or meeting in a more accessible venue (or online). Or perhaps you could make adjustments to the board papers for someone with a sensory impairment? Think about what would help someone with the skills and background you need to join the board.

Regularly taking stock of your board is important to make sure you’re fully meeting the needs of your charity. Then you can look forward to having a robust, effective and diverse board of trustees to help take it from strength to strength.

Got a plan for your panel? Post a free trustee ad now.

Tags: charity office, charity recruitment, charity sector, charity sector recruitment, diversity and inclusion, diversity in recruitment, finding the right people, hiring the right people

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About the author

Karen Harlow

Karen Harlow is Digital Content Manager at CharityJob.