Michelle writes for The Guardian: Charity cronyism is rife – appointing friends as trustees has to end

8th November, 2016

In Trustees’ Week, we in the charity sector need to ask ourselves some difficult questions about how we recruit the people who are responsible for our organisations.

If we are going to prevent further high-profile collapses of charities such as Kids Company and avoid wasting millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money, we urgently need to stamp out poor recruiting practices.

I have the following questions for charity sector leaders:

  • Would you build a team made up of friends and family without ensuring they had the right skills and knowledge?
  • Would you forgo proper recruitment procedures and induction?
  • Would you allow someone to continue in a role with no proper assessment of their performance?
  • Would you ignore social, demographic and ethnic diversity when recruiting ?

Most charity leaders would of course answer no, but the reality is that this sort of practice is common when charities appoint trustees. .

How can cronyism be stopped?

It is shocking how many trustee boards are still built in the image of their existing chair, recruited via a tap on the shoulder of friends and colleagues. Research by the Charity Commission four years ago showed that more than half of all trustees are recruited in this way and many charities overrule their own policies regarding trustee terms.

Charities should be publicly accountable for their recruitment procedures and for declaring conflicts of interest. Charities need to adhere to the terms of service established for trustees, with no exceptions. Extended trustee terms are at odds with the basic principles of effective leadership. We need fresh input and new thinking to ensure the ongoing health of the charity sector.

Why are fewer than one in 10 charity roles advertised?

It is estimated by the charity Getting on Board that in the UK only 8% of the 90,000 or so available charity roles is advertised, despite 21% of British adults being interested in joining a board.

There are some reasons for this: with no single place to advertise for trustees, it can be expensive to recruit them. Headhunters charge huge sums – anything between £15,000 and £25,000 - a steep cost for voluntary roles.

But effective recruitment of trustees is essential. Charities need to be savvy with their recruitment budgets, including maximising the use of free or low-cost advertising such as social media to reach the widest possible pool of candidates.

How do we make trustee boards more diverse?

Charity boards need to reflect the diversity of society in the broadest sense of the word – across gender, age, race, disability, religious beliefs and sexual orientation, so they can fully understand the challenges their beneficiaries face.

To look just at age, the average age of a trustee in the UK is 59 and 18-24-year-olds account for a mere 0.5% of all UK charity trustees. Our boards are simply not representative of wider society.

We must intentionally build boards that reflect the beneficiaries and communities of charities. This takes time, care and skill.

It beggars belief that charities take on trustees with no experience and no knowledge of what their legal and financial responsibilities are, but it’s surprisingly common. Just because someone is successful in their day job does not mean they know what to do when it comes to running a charity.

But we must insist that trustees have some training, that they know their responsibilities as clearly outlined by the Charity Commission and that they receive a proper induction. If a trustee is not willing to build their knowledge of their responsibilities then they should not be in the post – it really is that simple.

Read the original article here.

"The course was informative, enjoyable, covering plenty of ground in just one day without feeling rushed at all. It came at a crucial time in our planning and thinking as a development team and was a very welcome pause for thought. Michelle was a brilliant facilitator and it was a real benefit to hear about her experiences across the sector."

Jane Reynolds, Development Manager, Manchester International Festival