Finding people who are willing to give up a few hours each month voluntarily to act as a Trustee can be difficult enough, but how do you find people with a specific skill-set your Board is lacking and encourage them to get involved?
Having worked with several charities to evaluate their work and help them with strategic planning we see this issue being raised time and again. With the newly released Good Governance Code aiming to improve the operation of Boards and offering simple guidance on diversifying, accountability and transparency – this is clearly a common issue. The guide encourages trustees to regularly examine their effectiveness and seek new skills to shore up any weaknesses in their leadership.
While it is easy to offer guidance that assumes the need is not being met because Boards do not understand the benefits they could gain through further development of strategic skills, on an individual level, we feel this is unfair. Charity boards are already being encouraged to diversify their recruits and to encourage people with a broader range of skills to get involved and many are already actively trying to do so. The problem, as we see it, is one of competition.
The vast majority of Boards Active Outcomes have advised already completely understand this need and have attempted to recruit individuals with specific expertise in areas such as social media marketing, strategic planning, finance, fundraising, and sustainability. Charities need to innovate and recruit trustees from a wider pool, so here are our suggestions for how to think outside the box and find people who may not normally have noticed your calls to action.
A lot of Trustees we speak to say that they kept seeing an advert and thinking “Should I? Shouldn’t I?” before eventually taking the plunge and getting in touch with the charity.
One issue with needing this level of specific expertise is that the people who can offer it are already working at full capacity elsewhere. People are busier than ever. Asking for a few hours each month does not seem unreasonable, but a lot of charities are failing to adapt to meet the needs of Board members who are currently employed professionals. Meetings tend to be scheduled in the middle of the day and in the middle of the working week. Flexible working is on the rise, but it is simply not an option for many full-time employees who could otherwise have a valuable input into Board meetings.
Consider: Varying the times of Board meetings and holding them on evenings and/or weekends if necessary. Investigate options for holding sub-committee meeting virtually, sharing documents and discussing actions online rather than in-person could cut down on travel time (and associated travel expenses for the charity) and may encourage less vocal Board members to speak out more on issues in a lower pressure environment.
Attracting New Trustees
Think carefully about where you advertise Trustee vacancies. Who sees the adverts there? Are they your target audience? What are the costs and benefits associated with your current methods? How could you find the “type” of Trustee with the skills your Board needs?
For example, a poster on the noticeboard in a community centre would be seen in passing by the people who use the facilities there. So, think about who visits, retirees, or parents with young children, professionals working in the building, members of the public attending fitness classes – look at what else happens there and consider if your target audience makes up part of the footfall. Who is likely to notice the poster and stop what they are doing and think seriously about the opportunity you are offering?
Consider: Ask your current Trustees where they saw the vacancy advertised. If cost permits, repeat your adverts. A lot of Trustees we speak to say that they kept seeing an advert and thinking “Should I? Shouldn’t I?” before eventually taking the plunge and getting in touch with the charity. Don’t forget to take advantage of free publicity – think about drafting a press release to the local newspaper to advertise the opportunity to take over a vacancy – tell the story of the Trustee who is leaving and ask them to explain what they do and why they’d encourage someone to take the plunge and replace them on the Board.
Look at distributing flyers in office buildings, or ask a local Chamber of Commerce to put out a request, Linked In offers another way of getting a request out to interested professionals and even if they do not personally want to help, they may reach out to their wider network to see if anyone else wants to donate their time. Developing connections with employers can lead to mutual benefits, as larger employers often have in-house social responsibility programmes that encourage employees to donate their time to a cause, you could offer development opportunities for their staff and excellent publicity opportunities as they in turn support your work.
Develop the Skills Internally
Obviously, recruitment isn’t always going to go to plan and if you can’t recruit the specific skill-set you need, we advise that you are prepared to consider developing the skills in-house. There are additional risks and costs associated with this option, as people may choose to move on and you might be left with the same knowledge gap and a hole in your budget as you were forced to pay for the training that you no longer benefit from.
Consider: Put in place learning and development strategies that encourage Board and other staff members to share their learning and that set out clear succession planning actions to ensure that the specific duties carried out by one Board member can be carried on in the interim.
Diversify with Younger Board Members
Expertise is often associated with age. A potential recruit who has developed their knowledge over years will have a lot to offer, but we feel that discounting younger recruits because of a perceived lack of experience is a terrible idea.
Consider: Get in touch with local higher or further education providers (if they have an in-house career advisory service this is an ideal place to make initial contact with). Becoming a Trustee is a great opportunity for personal and professional development and young people have a range of transferable skills and a unique perspective and level of enthusiasm they can offer.
Be honest about your expectations and requirements but let people know that what you get out of the experience will, by far, outweigh what you put in.
Really Sell the Benefits
The benefits of volunteering their time might appear self-evident to the Board but members of the public need this making crystal clear. Many are put off by the perceived responsibilities and liabilities that come with being a Board member. You need to tell potential recruits what the opportunity offers them. Be honest about your expectations and requirements but let people know that what you get out of the experience will, by far, outweigh what you put in.
Consider: Creating an application pack to outlines the main roles and responsibilities, keep it brief and simple, no more than a few pages. Tell people what to expect, when you hold meetings, what the risks are and really explain the rewards. Giving your time to help others has massive benefits to both your own personal well-being and that of others, it can help you move your career in a completely different direction and allow you to widen your social circle and meet like-minded people. Get one of your current Trustees to create a profile to include in the pack that explains who they are, why they volunteer, what they do in a typical month, and what they get out of it.
Remember, if you need any help with attracting trustees we are always on hand to advise you. We can work with you to develop training packages, draft strategies, create recruitment packs and posters and press releases to support your Board in gaining the recruits they need. Feel free to get in touch if you’d like to discuss any of the ideas we’ve put forward above.