Recruiting the Right Trustees

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.

Professional Expertise

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.



I’ve been wanting to write about approaching “change” for a while. With the sad news about David Bowie’s death today, it seemed like an appropriate topic.

Here was a man who lived in a constant state of artistic flux, capable of flowing between movements, genres and careers. Embracing new ideas and giving older ones a new lease of life. He committed so much to a musical concept that he would be forced to create an entirely new character to encompass it.

Change can be daunting. It can be huge, overwhelming even. It can be hard to know where to even begin. You may know something is missing, you might have an end goal in sight, but the thought of making the change can be enough to put some people off even trying.

Be brave. Commit to your idea. Throw yourself into the change, because if you want it, if it is worth your effort, you’ll find the time to make it happen. That’s how I got started working as a freelancer, setting up Active Outcomes, I wanted a new challenge. I wanted to write for a living. It hasn’t been the easiest path, sometimes I wish I was working for someone else, that I could leave the office at the end of the day and switch off from everything. (An almost impossible task when you are running your own business!)

So in honour of David Bowie, a man who inspired me (and probably a lot more people around my age) from the moment I watched The Labyrinth as a kid – here are my thoughts on bringing about change, quoting the lyrics of David Bowie’s ‘Changes’.


“Still don’t know what I was waitin’ for…”

The first step is the hardest. You want to achieve something. You can write another to-do list, or you can stop procrastinating and take the first step.

Break down your goal so that it is in smaller, more manageable chunks. If your first task will take five minutes, for example, you want to run your idea by a collague and need to set up a quick meeting, you’ll have that one done today. If you can achieve something quickly you’ll feel far more motivated to keep on racking up those quick wins. With your head down solving the problem you’ll see the progress you’re making rather than the stack of work and potential obstacles ahead.

“Turn and face the strange…”

When you’re not working on a specific task – try and anticipate any obstacles before you run straight into them. Plan how you’ll overcome them. Brainstorm as many ideas/solutions/issues as you can think of. You may never need these ideas, but you’ll feel a whole lot better knowing you have them in your back pocket. Plus, sometimes it just feels good to let rip with your creativity and throw a few wild ideas around. What’s the worst that can happen?

“A million dead end streets…”

Test your ideas. Ask around. Chances are, others will have made the mistakes and can point you in the direction of a solution, or at least tell you where the pitfalls are. Be flexible. If at first you don’t succeed that doesn’t mean it’s not still worth pursuing your goal. There isn’t usually a straight path between points A and B. Besides, you tend to learn a lot more on the scenic route.

“Every time I thought I’d got it made, it seemed the taste was not so sweet…”

If it isn’t going well, get some perspective. Step away from the problem. Better yet, get someone else to take a fresh look at it. If they are completely new to your issue they might pick up on something you’ve missed because you’re too close to the problem. I find explaining an idea to someone with absolutely no prior knowledge helps me to understand and describe it in clear and simple terms. It is far too easy to overcomplicate things when you are bogged down in a process fighting against the way you’ve always done something.

Adapt. Be willing to strike an idea off the list, even if it was your favourite. If it isn’t working, there is no sense clinging to it, working around it or tweaking it so that it fits a bit better. You need to define what is good enough. If you have a solution that only just solves the problem, if you look at it sideways, with your head tilted at a certain angle, then it probably isn’t the best possible option. You’ll save yourself a lot more time and trouble down the line if you admit that you need to go back to the drawing board to get the change you need made.

“So I turned myself to face me…”

Following on from the last point, it helps to periodically take stock of what you are doing to achieve your goal and why you are making this change. Life is complicated, things change, priorities shift on a day-to-day basis. Understanding the change, what it involves and why it is important to you can help motivate you to push on and achieve it. If you’re running out of steam, visualising the end result can get you back in gear. If you are no longer filled with an all-consuming passion to get this change made it will help to understand what has happened in the meantime.

One thing that is certain is that change is hard. If you are managing a big change that impacts on others, either personally or professionally, you can feel crushed by their resistance to your ideas. I’ve always found that the best antidote to this is passion. If you can get other people to share your enthusiasm, if you can convince them of the potential reward and invite them to take the journey with you, you’ll make your job a lot easier.

You have to be the biggest cheerleader for your change, you have to live and breathe it, you have to get others excited by the idea and make sure that they know you are the person to see if they want to help make it happen. Throw yourself into it. Genuine enthusiasm is contagious. It might not be the way things have always been, but trailblazers like Bowie never let a thing like that stop them did they? And look at the legacy he has left in his wake.


If you need help managing change, or if you just want to talk through a problem, Active Outcomes can help. Contact us today for more information.