How can boards better represent the communities they serve?

  • Charity Commission analysis has found there is narrow representation on charity boards
  • Charities should look to recruit and welcome trustees at all levels of their organisation who have ‘lived experience’, to better represent the communities they serve
  • Campaigns, groups and resources are available to help organisations and campaigns work to address this

The NCVO / Bates Wells Trustee Conference during Trustees Week 2019 looked at all aspects of good governance. The issue of diversity and inclusion on boards was widely discussed at keynote sessions and in break-out workshops.

At the conference, Kiran Kaur, CEO of Girl Dreamer said: “In five years, the world will look quite different. If charities don’t change to reflect it, more fluid movements may overtake. Now, we need bridge builders to help drive change. We need to make trusteeship accessible to all, the sector accountable and to build allies.”

Here we share some of the points of discussion and useful tools.

The lack of representative boards

Analysis by the Charity Commission in its Taken on Trust report in 2017 confirmed that boards rarely reflect the communities they serve. It found that 92% of trustees are White British, two-thirds are men, and that the average age is 62.

Many have argued that boards that are comprised of people from a narrow background are ineffective. These ‘clone boards’ restrict insights and decision-making, and ultimately limit the charity’s relevance to its community and beneficiaries. But change doesn’t happen easily or quickly when the culture is established or when there is no one willing to change the status quo.

Organisations driving change

Campaigns, groups and resources have emerged to help charities address their own biases and representation.

For example, the Twitter campaign #CharitySoWhite is calling on every leadership team across the sector to prioritise critical reflection and candid conversation on institutional racism.

The Young Trustee Movement is mobilising to double the number of young trustees on boards by 2024, highlighting the fact that fewer than 3% of charity trustees are under 30.

NPC’s #WalkingTheTalk thought leadership is putting workplace equality, diversity and inclusion into practice.

And organisations are emerging that are ‘movements’, such as CitizensUK, where power is shared.

‘People with lived experience’ on boards

At an operational level, it is becoming more of a standard practice to involve people with lived experience. Co-production is a growing methodology across the sector.

Some boards actively look for this when recruiting for new trustees. But many say this has to go further than a tick box – one person cannot represent the experience of a whole condition or cause.

A culture change of involving people with lived experience at all levels is substantial, and it takes time to accept shifts in power and to invest in people who may not have the specialist skills you are recruiting for.

Trustee recruitment

For some boards, it can be hard to find trustees at all, let alone those who are outside the usual pool. There are many agencies and resources that can help charities with trustee recruitment, including providing advice about how to run recruitment campaigns that encourage applications from a wider group.

Once recruited and inducted, a wider culture change may be needed to ensure new trustees are welcomed, listened to and accepted. Often this can be disruptive, leading to significant changes in the way meetings are run and ultimately in the direction of the organisation.

Useful reads