Charities challenged on board diversity

Charities are being urged to do more to ensure their boards reflect diversity, encouraging applications from women, young people and people from ethnic minority and socially diverse backgrounds, after a research study focused on trustees found men outnumber women two to one

The report was commissioned by the Office for Civil Society and the Charity Commission, and delivered by a consortium led by Cass Business School and the Cranfield Trust. The researchers surveyed a sample of 19,064 trustees, via a national survey in January 2017, and had around 3,500 responses.

It found the majority (92%) of trustees are white, older and above average income and education.

The report revealed 71% of charity chairs and 68% of charity treasurers are men, while the average age of trustees is 55-64 years and 51% are retired.

Three quarters of trustees have household incomes above the national median, 60% have a professional qualification and 30% have post-graduate qualifications.

Most (71%) of trustees are recruited through an informal process, and in 80% of charities trustees play both a governance role and an executive role – they have no staff or volunteers from whom they can seek support.

Trustees reported concerns about their skills in dealing with fraud and external cyber-attack and said they are lacking relevant legal, digital, fundraising, marketing and campaigning skills at board level.

They were also concerned that trustees seek support and advice from one another – 80% of all respondents regarded this as their most important internal source of advice and support, with only 6% seeking guidance or training from an external provider.

The report recommends that guidance and support for trustees should be reviewed and enhanced and should draw on developments in digital technology.

The Charity Commission has published a formal response to the research, describing the findings as ‘sobering’.

Helen Stephenson, the Commission’s chief executive, said: ‘Trustees do not reflect the communities charities serve. Charities are therefore at risk of missing out on the widest range of skills, experience and perspective at board level – indeed trustees themselves report lacking key skill areas, including digital.

‘Uniformity at board level also puts charities at risk by creating a culture of “group think” where decision making can go unchallenged - something our casework bears out. Diversity of experience, approach and personality helps guard against such problems and enables any organisation to foster a culture that is conducive to good governance.’

A second report from the same research programme examined the advice and support available to charity trustees. It found that the uptake of formal support by trustees is low, and that trustees report finding difficulty in identifying appropriate support.

Taken on Trust: awareness and effectiveness of charity trustees in England and Wales is here.

Report by Pat Sweet

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