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Charities must do more to promote diversity on their boards

CHANGE: New research suggests more charities need to promote diversity on their boards

NEW RESEARCH recommends that charities do more to promote diversity on their boards and encourage applications from women, young people and people from ethnic minority and socially diverse backgrounds.

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 research finds that men outnumber women trustees on boards by two to one. The majority (92%) of trustees are white, older and above average income and education.

The research also finds that charity trustees, who are overwhelmingly volunteers, feel positively about their role and about the personal reward and satisfaction it gives them. It also highlights that trustees’ contribution to charities amounts to a monetary equivalent of around £3.5 billion a year.

The researchers surveyed a sample of 19,064 trustees, via a national survey in January 2017. Around 3,500 trustees responded to the survey.

The report finds that:

71% of charity chairs are men and 68% of charity treasurers are men
The average age of trustees is 55-64 years; over half (51%) are retired
75% of trustees have household incomes above the national median
60% of trustees have a professional qualification; 30% have post-graduate qualifications
71% of trustees are recruited through an informal process
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

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

The Charity Commission, the regulator of charities in England and Wales, has published a formal response to the research, which points to the growing importance of charities to our society, as charities perform a wide range of public functions – such as medical research and animal welfare - and take increasing responsibility for the delivery of public services.

Helen Stephenson, the Commission’s chief executive, says that the research findings offer encouragement, but also point to systemic issues around the diversity of and recruitment to trusteeship:

“Trustees make a vital contribution to our society and communities up and down the country rely on their voluntary efforts. It is heartening that, despite the demands on their time and expertise, trustees are overwhelmingly positive about their role.

But there is no room for complacency about the state of trusteeship. 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 of adverse group dynamics, including dominance by individuals or complacency of vision.

"Our casework bears out that problems in charities often have their root in a culture at board level which allows inappropriate behaviours and poor decision making to go unchallenged. 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.

I welcome this extensive and rigorous research and hope its findings act as a catalyst for action by charities to promote diverse trusteeship, and to better support existing trustees in their work. This is an opportunity for the sector to initiate change that secures its future.”

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