David Saint

Dec 5, 2017, 10:41 AM

How to recruit trustees

Perhaps we should start with ‘how not to recruit trustees’ – because frankly the wrong way is the most common way, yet there are some very good reasons why it’s the wrong way. (See also our article on the report ‘Taken on Trust’, which further addresses this issue.)

Most trustees are recruited by someone they know asking them if they could help their charity by becoming a trustee. As simple as that. And of course it is simple, because it is quick, easy, inexpensive – and very likely to result in a positive response. Who wouldn’t want to help out their friend if they can. And it’s for charity, after all!

But wait a minute. Just because someone is available, and willing, does that make them the right choice? Many charities struggling to recruit trustees at all may be tempted to shout “Yes! It’s hard enough to find anyone available and willing to become a trustee, and ‘beggars can’t be choosers’”.

We do sympathise with that viewpoint, and recognise the ‘double whammy’ of increased public scrutiny of charities, and the increasing ‘time poverty’ and general reluctance to commit within society, which does make it much harder than it used to be to find trustees.

However, part of the problem may be the way we go about it. We may start with the expectation that we will fail which (as Henry Ford famously pointed out) probably means that we will! We approach anyone we can think of, without any real consideration of their suitability or even why they might say yes, and go in with something along the lines of “I don’t suppose….”

So what’s the alternative? Here it is. But first let me declare an interest. Action Planning provides a trustee recruitment service, and we would love to provide that service for your charity. However, for many charities that is seen as too expensive an option (although you should ask us for a quote before you decide that is the case!) If that’s you, and really do need to do it yourself, what’s the best way to proceed?

  1. Treat the trustee vacancy as if it were a job vacancy. Because it is a job – it just happens to be unpaid. And just like any job, you want to fill it with the closest possible match to your needs.
  2. So define those needs. Draw up a Job Description (perhaps informed by your constitution, Charity Commission guidance for trustees, and the charity’s strategic objectives) and a Person Specification – identifying any specific skills and experience you need, in order to fill gaps within the existing Board. But also remember, what a Board of Trustees needs even more than technical skills is wisdom, common sense, and extensive life experience.
  3. Prepare a simple and compelling advertisement, inviting people to request the Job description and Person Specification, and any other information about the charity.
  4. Place this advertisement as widely as possible – certainly on your own website; to your supporters, beneficiaries and other stakeholders; perhaps in the specialist press relevant to your sector; perhaps in geographically relevant press; perhaps in Action Planning’s e-newsletter and website; perhaps to other relevant organisations and networks.
  5. Within the advertisement and Job description set a closing date for applications – probably 4-6 weeks after it first appears.
  6. After the closing date, review all the applications against the person specification, and decide who on paper offers the closest fit.
  7. For those candidates that have been shortlisted, offer an opportunity to visit the charity to meet informally with trustees, senior staff, beneficiaries and other stakeholders. This is a two way process – you are getting a feel for them, and they are getting a feel for you. They might decide they don’t want to proceed after all!
  8. Hold interviews for the final shortlist of candidates. Try and do these on the same day. Don’t make them too intimidating, but make them thorough. Remember that you are asking them to do you a favour (become a trustee on a voluntary basis), so you are partly in ‘selling’ mode. But also remember that you are literally ‘entrusting’ the charity into their hands, so you are also in ‘buying’ mode – you want to recruit someone who will have the best interests of the charity and its beneficiaries at heart, and who will add real value to the governance and strategic direction of the charity.

Does all this seem a bit optimistic, if you struggle to get any trustee applicants at present? You may find that, by making it a clear-cut, formal process with very specific requirements and deadlines, people will start to take the proposition more seriously. And by canvassing far and wide, you may get applications from all sorts of interesting people you would never otherwise have met.

Finally, don’t be worried that this wide open process may land you with entirely unsuitable people (often the fear of trustees who would rather recruit people they know already). Remember that this is a selection process, and just because it is a voluntary role it doesn’t mean that you have to accept every – or indeed any – applicant. You only appoint those that you are sure will add value, in the right way.

If you would like more information about how Action Planning can help you recruit trustees for your charity, do get in touch

David Saint

For more information on how to recruit trustees, get in touch

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