Taken on trust: new research on charity trustees

Posted: 13th November 2017

New research, published today to mark the start of Trustees’ week, recommends that charities do more to promote diversity on their boards, and highlights the positive personal satisfaction experienced by many trustees.

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.

Research carried out by Cass finds that men outnumber women trustees on boards by two to one and that the majority of trustees are white British, 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 random sample of 19,064 trustees, via a national survey in January 2017. The report finds that:

  • 71% of charity chairs are men and 68% of charity treasurers are men
  • the average age of trustees is 60-62 years; over half (51%) are retired
  • 75% of trustees are above the national median income
  • 60% of trustees have a professional qualification; 30% have post-graduate qualifications
  • 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.
  • trustees report lacking relevant legal, digital, fundraising, marketing and campaigning skills at board level
  • trustees are concerned about their skills in dealing with fraud and external cyber-attack.
  • trustees seek support and advice from one another - 80% of all respondents regarding this as their most important internal source of advice and support.

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

A report by The Cranfield Trust and the National Council for Voluntary organisations, examines the advice and support available to charity trustees. It found that the uptake of formal support by trustees is low, and that trustees report finding difficulty in identifying appropriate support. Organisations providing trustee services confirm the findings of the Cass research that trustee recruitment is largely informal, and raise questions about whether existing support offerings are tailored to the needs of trustees.

Amanda Tincknell, CBE, CEO of The Cranfield Trust says

"The study of organisations providing services to trustees and boards identifies opportunities which are also highlighted in the survey of individual trustees.  Informal trustee recruitment is the norm, and joining a board is a point when people becoming trustees could be most receptive to information and learning about the role.  Encouraging charities to use open recruitment approaches and improving signposting amongst support organisations will help trustees and the organisations they serve to develop their knowledge and skills. There’s a real opportunity to reach many more trustees and strengthen individuals and boards in their critical role."

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