Finding and keeping trustees

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In Trustees Week 2011 it seems timely to write a few words about the challenge that faces many of us who are involved in charity management. How do we find skilled individuals willing to volunteer their time as trustees and, having found them, how do we then keep them on board?

Recruiting the right trustees is as vital to a charity’s success as finding skilled staff and it’s often even more difficult, given the fact that trustees are largely unpaid and assume huge responsibilities when they take on the role.

Yet nearly a million people give their time to be trustees so they must be getting something out of it, especially since many people who are trustees of one charity choose to also become trustees of other organisations too – serial trustees are legion.

In my various roles as a staff member, an independent consultant and also as a trustee, I am tasked with supporting charities to recruit new members to their boards. In some organisations there are trustees who have been involved for decades and others who have come and gone in the space of a year. It’s hard if you are a responsible and committed trustee to leave an organisation when there is no one waiting to take your place, despite how tired and ready for a change you may feel. On the other hand it can be most frustrating for new recruits to arrive and feel unable to contribute through lack of induction or inability by the organisation to make good use of their skills.

So making the decision to recruit is the first step and there is lots of advice around to help you decide what skills you need on board and how to induct new people. Introducing terms of office to allow trustees to leave with honour and without the feeling that they are deserting the charity is useful. Terms of office can also facilitate a positive influx of new ideas and approaches at regular intervals and whilst this means you need an ongoing planned induction programme for new trustees this is well worth investing time in.

Recruiting new trustees still sadly depends too much on “the old boy network” and on trustees recruiting new people in their own likeness, so on many boards there is little diversity and younger people and people from minority groups are very under represented. But if you do want to reach outside your own networks how on earth do you do it without spending money you can’t afford on recruitment?

NCVO has some great information available to help you get started and taking the ripple approach (drop a pebble in as many ponds as you can find and see how wide the message can be spread) you can with focus, tenacity and creative thinking get out to people who really want the opportunity to help that you are offering.

I advise career changers thinking about making their first move into the voluntary sector that becoming a trustee is one of the best things they can do to build their knowledge of how the sector works and to contribute at a strategic level. Employees working in charities can enhance their skills and develop their careers and their networks by volunteering as trustees in other organisations. And of course trustees get rewarded with that nice warm feeling of being useful and making a positive difference.

It’s not easy to find ways of matching those who want to recruit with those who want to volunteer especially if you don’t have a budget for recruitment but with good planning and lots of networking you should succeed. Good luck!