A recent report commissioned by the Office for Civil Society and the Charity Commission has recommended that charities do more to promote diversity on their boards of trustees and encourage applications from women, young people and people from ethnic minority and socially diverse backgrounds.
The report, entitled 'Taken on Trust: the awareness and effectiveness of charity trustees in England and Wales', notes that "charity trustees are under scrutiny as never before." The report makes a series of recommendations which are largely aimed at encouraging sector bodies to act. We highlight the report's main findings below.
The report shows that there are more men than women on charity boards, particularly chairs and treasurers. The recent report suggests that "the majority (92%) of trustees are white, older and above average income and education", however it also positively acknowledges the contribution made by people of retirement age. One notable finding is that contrary to public belief, the number of charities paying their trustees for the service they provide is relatively low.
The report suggests that a majority of trustees apply to be on the board of a charity because of a personal interest in the work of that charity and just under half are or have themselves benefitted from the work of the charity. Many trustees are still being recruited informally and formal induction appears to be the exception rather than the norm.
The report suggests there is a risk that trustees may be less aware of their legal duties than they realise. It highlights that some trustees are unaware of the extent of their legal obligations and that they are ultimately and collectively responsible for the management and governance of the charity, as well as their specific responsibilities for reporting, filing and managing conflicts of interest. The report also found that there was a discrepancy between the 90% of respondents who reported they were confident of their legal duties as trustees and the actual level of awareness of legal responsibilities reported.
In the report, trustees acknowledge that there is a serious skills gap on issues such as legal obligations, digital, marketing, fundraising, campaigning and fraud prevention/detection. Skills gaps were also reported across governance, strategic planning, HR and trading. The report concludes that there is a need to promote awareness of fraud issues, particularly cyber fraud and safeguarding.
The report suggests that trustees are generally seeking internal support from fellow trustees and the chair, and external support from the Charity Commission website. However, the report raises the concern that external support from the Charity Commission's website is unlikely to be suitably tailored to specific needs and further support from sector bodies or legal or other professionals may be required.
Trustees are likely to be interested in the findings of the report.