Britain’s charities facing skills gaps

3 minute read

Ian Joseph, CEO of Trustees Unlimited, talks to us about the serious business of recruiting effective trustees for charities.

Ian Joseph

Ian Joseph, CEO, Trustees Unlimited

By Ian Joseph, CEO
Trustees Unlimited

With governance becoming an increasingly important issue for UK charities, the contribution that trustees make and the skills needed to be an effective trustee are more important than ever.

To mark Trustees Week, we wanted to discover how board performance is being measured and what trustees are doing to enhance their organisation’s performance.

We surveyed our database of 2,000 trustees and have some interesting findings to share.

Strikingly, 47% of trustees said they recognise skills gaps on their boards and 46% say their charity doesn’t appraise the performance of board members. The skills gaps highlighted were legal, HR and fundraising as well as social media and marketing and communications.

Less than half (44%) said their charity undertakes board member appraisals every year, 10% have appraisals every two years and 46% are never appraised. Over a third said their Chair isn’t appraised either. Whilst over half of trustees said their terms of office were three to five years, almost a third of admitted there were no fixed terms of office for trustees.

Despite recognising skills gaps charities are recruiting new trustees by word of mouth (16%) and mainly through their own networks (42%). Around a third use recruitment agencies or job boards and only 8% advertise vacancies.

On the one hand it is commendable that almost 50% of organisations recognise where they have skills gaps, however, it’s extraordinary that almost half of trustees are unaware of the skills they are lacking. It is also worrying to see that the approach to appraising board performance is so variable when governance is more important than ever.

A lack of diverse skills on a board is a huge risk. By relying on word of mouth or using their own networks to recruit trustees, charities are really limiting their talent pool. Having no fixed terms for trustees also prevents talent coming through.

There are a wealth of talented people out there who would be interested in becoming a trustee. However, charities must be more innovative to reach them – using social media channels and other recruitment methods to attract them. If they don’t, they will get left behind and the skills gaps will widen.

According to trustees, the top skills needed around the boardroom table are leadership, finance and chairing skills. The most desirable characteristic of a good trustee is contributing to the organisation’s performance (32%), next important is strategic thinking and thirdly being passionate about the cause.

Half of trustees said they saw that their colleagues possessed these qualities, 40% said they saw these qualities most of the time and one in ten said they did not see these characteristics in their co-trustees.

They also noted some unusual styles of behaviour. Whilst over 70% recognised the ‘Helpful Person’ who always offers their time and input, nearly 46% recognised the ‘Obsessive’ who pays too much attention to the small details and 36% the ‘Parsley on the Fish’ a board member that looks good, but doesn’t do much.

There are also many ‘Colonels’ sat on Britain’s boards, trustees who are excellent at giving direction and opinions, but not so good at action, and almost a quarter of respondents said they recognised the ‘Gong Hunter’, someone who is only looking for glory.
To be a good trustee takes many skills but also a firm commitment to the role and the charity cause. It is the responsibility of the Chair to bring out the best in trustees – using their skills in the right way, ensuring that meetings are run effectively and that everyone makes a valuable contribution at each meeting.

There is no room for Colonels and Gong Hunters on charity boards, especially given charities are under ever increasing scrutiny from the public and from their regulators. Having trustees not up to the job is simply unacceptable.

Do you have a trustee vacancy that you would like to advertise? Volunteer roles are absolutely free to advertise on the CharityJob website, and reach an audience of over 500,000 registered candidates, on the UK’s busiest jobs board for the charity sector.

Emma Begg

Product and Marketing Manager at CharityConnect. Love learning about new technology and helping to create a culture of collaboration over at

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