Given that trustees have financial and legal responsibility for their charity, it’s no surprise many people lack the confidence to take on the role. It’s time to change that, says Michelle Wright.
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There are 700,000 trustees in England and Wales who are responsible for running 167,000 charities with a total income of £74bn and assets of £250bn. That’s quite an obligation for a group of volunteers. The 2017 report Taken on Trust: Awareness and Effectiveness of Charity Trustees in England and Wales identified that in about 80% of charities nationally, trustees play both a governance role and an executive role. They have no staff or other volunteers from whom they can seek support, estimating that the annual value of the time that trustees spend on their duties is £3.5bn.
Charity trustees report that they lack the relevant legal, digital, fundraising, marketing and campaigning skills at board level
At the moment, however, the trustee role is rather a poisoned chalice. Public failings typified by the demise of Kids Company, concerns regarding the governance of fundraising in larger charities, and enhanced critical media attention have each contributed to a decline in public trust in charities that is only very slowly starting to recover.
The vast majority of media reporting about trustees is negative. And, as we find our volunteer trustees burdened with ever more responsibility and legislation with new fundraising regulation, GDPR and a New Charities Act, to name a few, who would actually want to step up into the most responsible volunteer position in the world?
A worrying picture
This picture is exacerbated by figures on diversity that are rather shocking. The Taken on Trust research demonstrated that trustees are drawn from a very narrow cross-section of the communities they serve. Men outnumber women trustees by two to one, 92% are white British and the average age is between 60 and 62 (20 years older than the average age in the UK). They are also above average in terms of both income and education.
Additionally, our own research at Cause4, carried out with 1,000 people in December 2017, revealed less than a quarter (23%) would consider being a trustee in 2018. 66% said they wouldn’t and 29% said that they didn’t know what a charity trustee is or what the role entails. Indeed, 17% preferred the more passive option of donating money rather than the responsibility of volunteering as a trustee.
So as arts organisations are encouraged to prioritise diversity and reflect our audiences and beneficiaries, where do we start if the baseline understanding and appetite around trusteeship is so low? Here are some proposals:
- The Taken on Trust research suggests a national campaign to help promote trusteeship. This is surely essential to help arts organisations and charities draw in much-needed trustee talent. If we don’t start celebrating and appreciating our trustees, then the situation is only going to get worse.
- We need to boost the knowledge of what’s actually involved. Taking on a trustee role will take up time, you might get an induction and training if you’re lucky, but you will probably find some support from fellow trustees. If you are looking for appreciation or recognition, it’s unlikely but you will develop real skills and knowledge as well as making a vital contribution.
- We urgently need to encourage a better working culture between staff and trustees as there is some tension in most arts organisations. Executive teams are frustrated that their trustees are not contributing or helping enough, and most trustees want to help more but are exasperated that they are not given clearer or more specific guidance about how to help. Working practices could be transformed if executive and trustees simply take 15 minutes every so often to talk about what is most helpful and to understand each other’s roles and perspectives.
Low confidence in skills
The Taken on Trust research goes on to say that trustees are generally confident about their own perception of the legal duties and responsibilities they face. They are, however, less confident when specific responsibilities are identified and tested. Charity trustees report that they lack the relevant legal, digital, fundraising, marketing and campaigning skills at board level.
So, what can be done? At Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy, with the support of Arts Council England, we are going to dip our toe in the water and test whether we can make a small change. In this very uncertain economic climate, we know that most arts organisations are desperate to increase the fundraising skills and knowledge on their boards.
We are putting out a #BeAtrustee call to action to our arts fundraisers and those with fundraising knowledge to step forward to become trustees to increase the fundraising confidence on our boards. Our one-day training course is adapted for the arts from the award-winning trustee Leadership Programme in partnership with Close Brothers AM and Clothworkers’ Company, which trains over 500 people a year to be trustees.
This article is part of a series of articles on the theme Fundraising for the future, sponsored and contributed by Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy.
#BeAtrustee training runs in Manchester on Wednesday 28 February and Bristol on Thursday 29 March.
Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy runs many one-day training courses on essential fundraising skills, trustee leadership half-day courses, bespoke and tailored training, and a number of one-day courses are offered on demand.