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How to find and develop talent

It is in the name – trustee.

Whilst trust in other settings in the economy and society has fallen, charities are well regarded and highly trusted by the public – ranking second only to doctors. Key to this is the system of decision-making in charities, which gives ultimate control of what happens to a set of trustees, people are there to ensure that the charity acts in line with its charitable objects. They are typically unpaid, so they are not acting in their own financial interests, and they are regulated, so open to financial and other risk if they don’t act with due care and attention.

There are critical voices – in many cases, trustees are self-selecting, in other cases, they can be unrepresentative and therefore unaware of the true needs of their beneficiaries. And charity governance is evolving – in recent years, for example, through the introduction of charity governance codes for charities of all sizes – for England and Wales and for Scotland and for Northern Ireland. But overall, it seems, charity trustees help to make charities a trustworthy model.   

In this article, we will explore the importance of trustees in charitable organisations and discuss strategies for finding and developing talented individuals who can contribute effectively to their governance and mission.

1. The significance of Trustees in charitable organisations

OK, to recap, these are four key roles that trustees are charged with:

  • Governance and strategic direction: Trustees are responsible for setting the strategic direction of the organisation, ensuring its mission aligns with the needs of the community it serves. They provide oversight, make informed decisions, and guide the charity towards achieving its goals.
  • Fiduciary responsibility: Trustees function as custodians of the organisation, ensuring that its resources are managed responsibly and ethically. They oversee fiscal management, fundraising efforts, and compliance with legal and regulatory obligations.
  • Stakeholder engagement: Trustees act as ambassadors for the organisation, engaging with stakeholders such as donors, volunteers, and beneficiaries. They foster relationships, build networks, and advocate for the organisation's mission, enhancing its visibility and impact.
  • Leadership and expertise: Trustees bring diverse skills, experiences, and perspectives to the organisation. They provide leadership, contribute their expertise in areas such as finance, law, marketing, or programme management, and offer guidance to the executive team.
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2. Finding the right Trustees

We love the fact that the most common reason that people become a trustee is… because someone asked them to do it. The more that charities can reach out to ask people to help, the higher the quality and diversity of trustees will be that they can attract.  

  • Define desired skills and expertise: Start by identifying the specific skills, experiences, and knowledge gaps within the board. Consider the organisation's strategic goals, areas of operation, and the challenges it faces. This will help you determine the desired qualities and expertise needed in prospective trustees.
  • Network and outreach: Leverage personal and professional networks to identify potential trustees. Perhaps attend some networking events, industry conferences, and workshops where you can meet individuals with a passion for the cause. Use online platforms and professional associations to broaden your reach, for example through Reach Volunteering.
  • Engage current stakeholders: Current board members, staff, and volunteers can provide valuable insights and recommendations for potential trustee candidates. Encourage them to share their networks and ideas for finding individuals who align with the organisation's mission and values.
  • Advertise positions: Publicise trustee vacancies through various channels, such as your organisation's website, social media platforms, and relevant community forums. Clearly outline the desired qualifications, responsibilities, and application process to attract suitable candidates. The good news, according to Reach, is that trustees who respond to open recruitment are more likely to be diverse candidates than those who are appointed following closed or informal recruitment processes.
  • Partnerships and collaborations: Explore partnerships with other organisations, educational institutions, or corporate entities that have a vested interest in the cause. They may have individuals within their networks who are willing to serve as trustees or provide guidance in the search process. Organisations supporting diversity like Getting on Board may already be working with people with the skills you need to support them to become trustees.
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3. Developing Trustees

Don’t make the mistake that some non-profits do of doing all that work to bring in good people and then… failing to invest in their skills and knowledge to be able to do the job effectively. Four steps to help are:

  • Orientation and onboarding: Once trustees are appointed, provide a comprehensive orientation process to familiarise them with the organisation's mission, goals, operations, and governance structure. Connect new trustees with experienced board members who can serve as mentors and provide guidance during the onboarding period.
  • Training and development: Offer ongoing training and professional development opportunities for trustees to enhance their skills and knowledge. This can include workshops, webinars, conferences, or access to relevant resources and publications. Encourage trustees to stay up to date with trends and best practices in governance and the non-profit sector.
  • Board evaluation: Regularly evaluate the performance and effectiveness of the board as a whole and individual trustees. Implement mechanisms such as self-assessment surveys, external evaluations, or peer reviews to identify areas for improvement and ensure the board remains focused and accountable.
  • Mentoring and succession planning: Foster a culture of mentorship within the board, where experienced trustees guide and support newer members.
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Thinking about becoming a trustee?

Many business experts who join us as Pilotlighters are looking to become trustees but want to develop their board skills and learn more about charities first.  Our Pilotlight 360 programme is the perfect bridge into the charity sector.

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