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With increasing demands on the boards of arts organisations—by both funders and the Charity Commission—Helen Keall of Pavilion Dance South West shares her innovative approach to recruiting trustees with the right expertise.

Three people at trustee matching event
Pilot matchmaking event between arts organisations and local businesses, hosted by Pavilion Dance South West in collaboration with Dorset Chamber

Dorset Chamber

Like many other organisations, at Pavilion Dance there was a post-pandemic exodus of trustees who understandably felt, having steered the organisation through an incredibly tough few years and as the green shoots of recovery appeared, that they were ready to hand the baton on.  

As a result, the challenges of attracting and maintaining a diverse and balanced board have been very much front of mind over the past year. Ensuring the voices around the table include beneficiaries, sector expertise, well-connected locals, and fundraising, finance, and legal experience—while also reserving two spaces for young trustees and maintaining diversity in terms of race, disability, LGBTQIA+, socio-economic background, and gender—is a never-ending balancing act.  

As a National Portfolio Organisation, our trustees have had to adjust to a sharp increase in the number and complexity of papers that require sign-off at each quarterly meeting to meet the Arts Council’s funding requirements. And with our traditional sources of multi-year funding (ACE, local authority, major trusts & foundations) at a standstill or reducing, the pressure is on to diversify our income base by becoming more commercially savvy and attracting business support.  

We concluded we needed to add business representation to the board to bring fresh perspectives and connections. But we knew from experience that getting information about trustee vacancies out to businesses via our usual routes wasn’t working, and we needed to do something more eye-catching. Our local Chamber of Commerce had helped us find a finance trustee through their membership, so we decided to pitch the idea of working together on a matchmaking event.

Introduction to being a trustee

The proposal was to bring Dorset Chamber businesses and Dorset arts not-for-profits together to encourage business people to find out more about the rewards of volunteering as a trustee and to get some conversations started that we hoped would lead to appointments. The Chamber was enthusiastic and with modest funding from Arts Council England South West we started planning a test event.   

We aimed to bring around 20 arts not-for-profits and the same number of businesses together for a series of short talks from people involved in boards to give charity, trustee, and business perspectives. There was also an ‘Introduction to being a trustee’ session run by our local Voluntary Services support organisation, Community Action Network.  

This set the stage for the main event – a networking buffet lunch with opportunities for the business attendees to browse arts organisations’ information stalls and talk to staff about the brilliant work they do. 

At the heart of the approach was a partnership between Pavilion Dance and Dorset Chamber, each bringing expertise, credibility and a network in our respective fields. We hosted the event and took responsibility for signing up arts organisations to provide an enticing range of artform, scale and geographic location. Dorset Chamber promoted the event to their members and we used their event booking system, familiar to their members. 

What did we learn?

It was much easier to engage arts organisations than businesses. Dorset Chamber are now clear that, when promoting a similar event to members in future, they would start from an ESG (Environmental, Social & Governance) responsibilities perspective. They would also lead with the benefits outlined by speakers at the event, who confirmed from personal experience that supporting charities and local community causes can enhance a business in a wide variety of ways. Benefits include:

•    Positive public image
•    Customer loyalty
•    Employee morale and engagement
•    Attracting talent (“a good place to work”)
•    Staff Continuing Professional Development opportunities
•    Tax benefits
•    Networking opportunities
•    Differentiation in the market
•    Brand building
•    Risk management
•    Community impact

Overall feedback from attendees was very positive, with 90% of respondents saying that they had achieved their aims in attending the day, and 40% of them saying the talks were one of the most useful parts of the event. Replacing individual talks with a panel discussion with a Q&A to explore individual, charity and business perspectives would address issues of repetition and retain useful content.


The aims we set ourselves at the start were all met. We confirmed that there is an appetite for this kind of matchmaking from both arts organisations and businesses, albeit stronger from those seeking trustees than those interested in becoming one. 

We tested a possible structure, content and marketing for this type of event and are using the learning to provide recommendations for other arts organisations/ Chambers of Commerce to use. 

Within a month, three organisations confirmed they had meetings set up with a potential trustee they had made contact with at the event. An additional unexpected outcome was the number of arts organisations that reported having made valuable connections to potential new partners, both business (funding and legal support) and other arts organisations (project collaborations). 

Business as a force for good

Dorset Chamber are planning to run another event next year, with a broader range of charities - not just arts - implementing lessons learned about event marketing and structure from this pilot. 

They are also considering integrating the approach into other opportunities, such as an upcoming ‘Business as a force for good’ event, inviting half a dozen stallholders from smaller charities to set up in the foyer for delegates to interact with during coffee breaks/lunch, and trialling a speed-dating-style set of 1-2-1 conversations.

Overall, the event raised Pavilion Dance’s profile in the business and arts communities, showcasing our facilities to potential hirers and strengthening our working relationship with Dorset Chamber.

Helen Keall is Executive Director of Pavilion Dance South West.
 pdsw.org.uk/ | dorsetchamber.co.uk/
@PDSW_org | @HelenMKeall | @DorsetChamber

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Headshot of Helen Keall