Trustee Diversity: it's time for action

27 July 2017 | By Cause4 staff


Gemma EdomThis year’s Wimbledon headlines had more to discuss than the early departure of our British players. Andy Murray’s correction of the journalist who forgot Serena Williams’ 12 Grand Slam wins[1] brought renewed attention to the casual gender inequalities that linger in the sport. As issues of diversity and representation get more airtime, we in the charity sector must take a hard look inward and ask why similar inequities permeate our own Centre court.

Despite “talking-the-talk” it seems little has been done to reduce the pale, stale, male epidemic that monopolises the Trustee boardroom, with only 36% of Trustees in the UK being female, 8% BAME, and a mere 0.5% between the age of 18-24[2][3].

Why is a lack of diversity a problem?

A major reason for this under-representation is closed recruitment, with 45% of Trustees recruited through an existing acquaintance or colleague[4], and most positions only advertised internally within the charity. This cronyism may favour “who-you-know” over experience or quality. The resulting rivalries, tensions and power politics between overly entitled board-members haunt the nightmares of Chairs and Chief Executives alike, and can stall a charity’s decision-making.

Further, this seriously restricts the charity’s impact. A board of individuals with near-identical life experiences may manage current services successfully, but may lack the knowledge to extend support beyond one demographic. Broadening the cache of those who benefit from the charity’s services, keeping communication with supporters relevant and increasing the pool of donors is near-impossible without a diverse, engaged board room.

How can we address this problem?

With the benefits clear, how can we encourage long-term board diversity? A tokenistic nudging of particular individuals into roles just to fill quotas will benefit no-one. Rather, in my view, improvements in the following three areas will make Trusteeship a more attractive opportunity for under-represented individuals.

1. Open recruitment

Trustee positions should be advertised beyond the inner circle. General volunteering sites, such as Reach Skills or Do-It, broaden the accessibility of such positions, whilst specific networks like Black Fundraisers UK or the Young Charity Trustees network connect charities with under-represented individuals already keen to get involved.

2. Managing expectations

Individuals should be equipped and supported with realistic expectations about what is involved on both sides. Addressing this, Cause4’s Trustee Leadership Programme allows young professionals to develop the skills and confidence to become Trustees and discover how their own skillsets can be best utilised on Trustee boards.

3. Support during the role

Once recruited, Trustees should not be left high and dry. To enable all board members to participate in decision-making, ongoing training should develop board members’ professional cooperation, whilst inclusive practices should make the role more inviting. Charities could consider the accessibility of board meetings, putting childcare policies in place and having support staff present[5] to answer questions, translate and identify correct papers for discussions.

With an estimated 85% of under-35s keen to become Trustees[6] now is the time to harness this enthusiasm. By paving the road to Trusteeship with open recruitment, realistic expectations and ongoing support, charities with increasingly diverse boardrooms will better serve their beneficiaries, donors and partners.

Do you agree? How do you think charities can make their boards more diverse? We’d love to hear.



[2] Inclusive Boards (November 2016) Diversity in Charities Retrieved from

[3] The fact that insufficient data is available on the percentage of LGBT+ Trustees or those with disabilities again shows the lack of attention Trustee diversity receives.

[4] Inclusive Boards (November 2016) Diversity in Charities Retrieved from



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