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Many arts organisations struggle to find high-quality trustees, particularly ones with digital or business expertise. A new matchmaking service is responding to this challenge, as Anna Rowe and Matthew Swann explain. 

A RIAC matchmaking event
Organisations seek trustees with a diversity of thought and expertise

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an arts charity in possession of a strong artistic programme must be in want of new trustees. With apologies to Jane Austen, the need to find and recruit trustees that can help arts organisations survive and prosper has been a constant challenge of recent times. 

The emphasis of need changes. In decades past, trustee recruitment was primarily driven by the need to pack boards with people who could provide large-scale financial support – much needed but which often drowned out other voices. More recently, not least in Arts Council England’s latest National Portfolio funding round, a far greater emphasis was rightly placed on board diversity. 

It is increasingly the case, however, that what arts organisations need and seek most is a diversity of thought - individuals with different life experiences and a range of professional expertise, particularly from the commercial and business worlds, who understand how to leverage creativity and build financial sustainability. 

Yet for many arts organisations, particularly small to medium sized ones, it’s challenging to find high quality trustees. Engaging with the networks where these individuals are found takes considerable resource, especially if the existing board isn’t from those worlds. The challenge can also be one of time, adding to arts executives’ already considerable administrative burden. It can equally be expensive with steep executive search fees at a time of decreasing funding. 

Next generation of arts trustees

RIAC (Responsible Influence in Arts and Culture) was established to respond to this need in the sector to identify new and more diverse talent for trustee posts and, at the same time, to offer opportunities to a next generation of arts trustees from a broader range of backgrounds with diverse skills and experiences. 

Importantly this next generation of trustees are often very engaged with the arts as audience members and participants, but simply unaware that the organisations behind the art might value them in governance roles. 

They bring different voices allied to strategic thinking honed in the business world. This meets the needs of arts organisations who benefit from this diversity of thought, not just to respond to increased scrutiny by funders, but to ensure the thinking a board brings ensures organisational sustainability and creative growth.

The core of RIAC’s activity is to match young professionals - mainly from the worlds of business, professional services and digital, and usually at early to mid-career stage - with arts organisations looking to recruit to their boards. Arts professionals are also welcome. 

Mentoring support

New trustees are appointed according to the arts organisation’s governance processes. Once in post, the RIAC member is mentored by an experienced arts trustee – a member of the RIAC Brain Trust - as they grow into their new role. 

Our mentors also reflect the diversity of our sector and include current and former chairs of national cultural institutions as well as individuals whose long and expert experience in the arts as practitioners or trustees for grassroots organisations. 

In addition, our next generation trustees are brought together as a network, to learn from and support each other, with regular events ranging from Meet the Mentor Q&A sessions and networking events, to governance training and advice.

In our first year of operation, we have made a number of appointments that have strengthened and developed arts organisations and are detailed in our case studies. A few examples here: Andrei Kazanstev and Kopal Matanhelia, both with successful careers at Goldman Sachs, have joined the boards of Tete a Tete Opera and MOTUS dance, bringing their financial and strategic expertise. Alexander Amos, who brings experience as a partner in a major city law firm, has joined The Choir With No Name. And Lizzie Penceval, a senior local authority communications expert, has brought her experience to Applause Rural Touring. 

Increased collective strength

Establishing RIAC as a charity acknowledges that what we provide is essential support. An arts and cultural sector with good governance has increased collective strength. For this reason, we are funded entirely by philanthropic donations, with the services we offer provided free of charge to the individuals and arts and cultural charities with whom we work. 

Our own board also reflects the connections we are making across the arts, with individuals from different backgrounds who met in the investment banking world but have since gone on to be active arts trustees.

Our website details how individuals who want to become trustees, and arts organisations who are seeking them, can engage with RIAC, through a simple registration process. We would also encourage those same audiences to follow us on Linkedin where we are building a lively and engaged network. We hope that all those joining us will benefit from RIAC’s connections and look forward to welcoming you all to our next generation trustees’ network.

Anna Rowe is Chair and Matthew Swann is Executive Lead at RIAC.
 company/riac-uk/ | matthew-swann-34663512/

Link to Author(s): 
Anna Rowe
Matthew Swann