Valuing Diverse Voices

At the end of Trustee’s Week, Network Chief Executive, David Tittle, reflects on our recent board recruitment.

Heritage Trust Network has recently undertaken a successful board recruitment exercise. This resulted in us appointing, among others, a trustee and two trainee trustees who are under 30 years old as well as two highly experienced professionals from the heritage sector. How and why did we do it?

The background to the recruitment is that some of our board members were reaching the end of their terms. I would always recommend term limits for board members of any charity. It can be a tough rule to implement when you have to say goodbye to experienced and valuable board members. But it need not be a total goodbye, there are always ways of involving former board members through working groups and committees. Without term limits it is easy to slip into a pattern of reappointing the same trustees and never bringing in any fresh faces and perspectives. This does not apply to the Network, but I have known voluntary organisations where long-standing trustees are no longer making a positive contribution, but everyone is too polite to ask them to retire. These days organisations must be constantly renewing themselves, examining why they exist and whether they are achieving their objects. Turnover in the Governing body helps to facilitate that challenge and change.

The Network’s constitution says that board members should be reappointed every three years and can serve two terms. They can be appointed for up to three further years, but it is implied that this is an exception. We realised this year that we have four board members who will have served their time on the board in 2022. At the time we had four vacant places, so it was a great opportunity to manage continuity, bringing new trustees on board before old ones had to step down.

Absolutely invaluable in planning our recruitment process was the trustee recruitment and diversity charity GettingOnBoard. I attended one of their seminars and downloaded their guide. We also included their ‘How to be a trustee’ guide in the documents we sent out to applicants. There is so much good advice from GettingOnBoard, but key messages I would pick out that helped make our recruitment a success are:

Start with a skills assessment of existing trustees – Ours was done through an online form so that the information could be easily collected in one spreadsheet. I am personally a bit sceptical about these exercises as it is too easy to make simplistic assumptions about the skills that are needed. For example, boards need at least one, preferably more, trustees who understand the organisation’s finances and take an interest in them. That role cannot necessarily be filled every local accountant or businessperson, they need to understand the ways in which the finances of organisation with a mix of charitable and earned income work and to be able to look beyond the standard management accounts to see what is really happening ‘under the bonnet’. Nevertheless, skills audits are helpful in working out what the gaps are in your board.

Advertise it like a job and have an open process – You may want to do some headhunting, but you will not know all the good people who potentially could be on your board, so you could be missing out, and it’s unlikely that you will diversify your board if you just go for people you know.

For this recruitment we sent the opportunity out through a wide range of networks; our funders and partner organisations, the Heritage Alliance, IHBC, Young Trustees Movement, Charity Job, Do-it, to name but a view, as well as our own newsletters, social media and online community. With this wide dissemination of the opportunity we did not feel we needed to take out any paid advertising.

Interviews help you to understand what potential trustees can really bring to the organisation and how they are likely to perform in board meetings. These need not be quite as formal as job interviews, but they nevertheless should be part of the selection process. It also helps to reinforce the impression that this is a valuable opportunity, one where there will be competition for places.

Sell the opportunity – Let potential board members know what a great organisation you are and how they will be playing a crucial role in its future. Even if you are facing major issues, these can be presented as a positive challenge. Think about the benefits of being part of your board for people of all ages and backgrounds; it’s rewarding, the meetings are interesting, people get to network, they can add it to their CVs, expand their skills and experience. You are not asking people to undertake a chore.

Positively selling the opportunity means you may attract people who are looking at a number of board opportunities. That means that some you want to appoint may get what they see as ‘a better offer’. That happened during our recruitment, and we were a bit disappointed but it showed we had succeeding in attracting the sort of applicants that were in demand elsewhere.

Make clear what the commitment is – This usually involves a core commitment (for example to attend meetings) and optional opportunities to get involved in sub-groups or discussions. Make clear whether meetings are in-person and what travel is involved. It may be obvious to people who are familiar with charitable boards that their expenses will be covered but if you want to involve new groups of people, particularly young people, you need to spell it out.

State clearly what sort of people you are looking for – This is particularly true if you are hoping to diversify your board. If you want to encourage applications from young people, people from ethnic minorities, more women (or more men), etc. say it clearly. The fact that we specifically said we would welcome trustees under 30 made sure we got applicants from that age group, without that younger applicants would have looked at the pictures of our existing board and assumed it was not for them. Suggesting that less experienced applicants could become trainee trustees made it less scary.

Value diversity through the selection process – If you are seeking to diversify your board it is important to understand why, and to take those reasons into the selection process. One of the main reasons to seek trustees from different backgrounds is because of the different experiences and perspectives they bring, but if your selection criteria is based on who has the most professional experience and education that may exclude those fresh minds and voices from your board. Depth of knowledge and experience is vital on a board but it needs to balanced with the breadth of experience and perspectives.

So, we shall be welcoming the new trustees to our Conference in a week’s time and their first board meeting in December and we are really looking forward to working with them. Check out our Board for yourself and view the videos some of our new and existing trustees made for Trustee Week on our LinkedIn page. Next summer we will need to repeat the process and everything we have learnt this year will be incredibly valuable.

Leave a Reply