It takes courage and effort to steward the growth and development of any charity. Ensuring that the board of trustees provide an appropriate level of expertise, challenge, scrutiny and support will be fundamental to a charity’s success, or failure. Below we highlight six common pitfalls of charity boards:
A lack of self-awareness: We would recommend that every charity conduct skills audits and occasional board effectiveness reviews. These help to bring vital clarity to the strengths, weakness and potential blind spots of the organisation. Only when you have identified these can you fill the gaps meaningfully. We would also advocate for regular individual trustee appraisals. These are enormously helpful in maintaining trustee engagement and highlighting/making the best use of trustee expertise.
A lack of fresh perspectives: We would also encourage all charities to be open to appointing at least one or two trustees who have no prior involvement in the charity. Fresh perspectives are so valuable, especially if an organisation is seeking to grow or launch new initiatives. Additionally, if board members are too closely aligned with each other or with the Executive Leadership Team (ELT), an appropriate level of challenge is likely to be lacking.
A lack of trust: Trust is the most powerful working currency and therefore chairs should do all they can to foster a relationship of trust between the board and executive leadership team. By inviting the executive team to attend some of each board meeting you create a culture of openness, and sub-committee groups (where executives and board members work together on specific topics) are helpful to build trust, upskill executives and make the most of trustee expertise.
Insufficient diversity: Improving diversity is about building boards which reflect the diversity of God’s world, are well-informed, self-aware, self-reflective, intellectually agile and equipped to manage the broadest variety of challenges imaginable. However, improving the diversity of your board is unlikely to happen without some concerted effort. There needs to be a board wide commitment to improving diversity and measures in place both to identify diverse candidates and to guard against our tendency to hire in our own likeness.
A poorly supported chair: We would highly recommend that all charities consider creating a nominations committee to keep track of trustee terms, skills gaps, candidate suggestions etc. This can significantly reduce the burden of trustee recruitment which may otherwise fall heavily upon the chair. Charities operating in this way experience less stress around trustee recruitment, are better at succession planning, and more effectively make use of the personal networks of all trustees, rather than just the chairs.
Recruiting exclusively from personal networks: Research by the Charity Commission has shown that whilst the traditional methods of trustee recruitment are still widely used (personal recommendation and word of mouth), they are not necessarily the most effective ways of finding the best people. Today a number of Executive Search firms are developing creative and economically efficient ways of supporting charities to strengthen their boards. It is worth getting in touch to explore what the options might be.