Tag Archives: governance

Guest blog by @juliekhutchison – reflecting on #trusteehour 9: looking at charity sub-committees

With over 3,500 views, our July #trusteehour looked at charity sub-committees, and the ups and downs shared by followers online.  It looks like some of you really value the blog to bring together the contributions into one summary – thanks for getting in touch @JanineEEdwards


Charity sub-committees can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.  Whether it’s Finance, Fundraising, Nominations, HR or Audit, there are plenty of examples of boards delegating to smaller working groups.  Are these committees always effective?  @sallyld drew out a few examples of what can make a committee worthwhile:

@sallyld replying to @trusteehour

Ah sub committees. They can be brilliant with a tight remit, clear reporting structures and a clear review process. Otherwise steer well clear (in my opinion). 

Committees can be a necessary way to focus on delivery of the board’s strategy and objectives, as @ian_mcl points out – a board does not have time to get into the detail of everything, and needs to find mechanisms to support delivery and oversight:

@Ian_mcl replying to @TrusteeLeaders @trusteehour

4 board meetings pa for 3 hrs is 12 hours a year to do everything. Create work plan and delegate spadework to cttees to get coverage without having too many. Driven by board objectives. 

However, there were some examples of poor time management, which raises questions about how meetings are being chaired:


And Ian wasn’t alone in that experience.

We returned to the theme of the importance of a tight remit, and the way things can become inefficient if not handled well:

julie 9.png

Another angle we drew attention to was the opportunity offered by a committee role, as a first experience of charity governance, or a means to share your expertise without the full commitment of a trustee role.  A number of charties do co-opt external members.  External members can share their expertise on whichever sub-committee they sit, although don’t attend board meetings and are usually not trustees.

We would like to encourage more charities to consider co-opting new members onto their sub-committees.  This could be a win-win.  A great way for someone new to charity governance to gain some first experience and volunteer in a way which is less onerous than a full board role.  It enables them to get to know a charity, where later they may consider a trustee role when a vacancy arises.  This ‘getting to know you’ process works both ways, and it could also prove particularly useful as a way to involve younger people in their first role:

@TraceyMcCillen replying to @trusteehour

Will certainly give it some thought and let you know. Keen to engage Young Trustees and see change in perception on how people with learning disability can engage at all levels of governance, Board, Committees etc.

If your charity could create a committee role to expand the pipeline of future trustees, there’s a place on twitter where vacancies can be shared:

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Finally, join us for our next #trusteehour on Tuesday 14th August, 7-8pm (note earlier time) where @TheYardScotland is hosting us as we look at top tips for charities embarking on a capital build project, a theme we’re supporting to help the Yard with their forthcoming new project.  We’re keen to continue to take #trusteehour on tour – if your charity has a specific area of interest for a future #trusteehour, get in touch with us @trusteehour!

Blog by Julie Hutchison @juliekhutchison
Founding Editor of @InformedTrustee

12 August 2018

Please note: some of the graphics were unable to load on this occasion, so they are placed as text. 

Guest blog by @juliekhutchison – reflecting on #trusteehour 7

With over 7,000 views, our topic for May’s #trusteehour clearly struck a chord – what research should you do before saying yes to a charity trustee role? Thanks to @RummleGumption for the theme idea.
Here are the top tips shared:
1. Basic due diligence online means checking out a charity’s website; googling for news stories involving the charity; look at their accounts online; look at their information on the charity regulator’s website. Thanks to @ian_mcl for his list of these.
2. Think people and culture, as @friend_natasha points out:


3. Look carefully to find out about the exact legal structure of the charity. There are two main kinds. One is unincorporated (for example a trust or an unincorporated association). The other is incorporated (for example a company limited by guarantee, or a CIO in England and Wales, or SCIO in Scotland). This latter type offers a bit more liability protection for charity trustees and has other benefits, such as contracts can be in the name of the charity instead of individual trustees.
4. Find out if the charity has indemnity insurance in place. Some do, some don’t. For unincorporated charities, this was seen as being particularly important:


5. Consider practical things, like location, which day of the week are board meetings held, and at what time. Those practical points could rule a potential trustee role in or out – also check out skype/video conference options, which might be specifically enabled in a charity’s governing document:



6. Do you get any help from your employer? There was mixed experience with this one, with some employers actively offering paid leave to support employees who take on voluntary roes:





7. If things get to the interview stage, ask for a copy of the governing document if it’s not otherwise available online – worth a read in advance:


8. Understand what the time commitment is going to be. Will there be committee meetings as well as board meetings? Will you be expected to ‘represent’ the charity and be an ambassador at events, as @sallyld points out:


9. To help make sure you are not ‘out of pocket’ in taking on a trustee role, what expenses does the charity offer to refund? It’s normal to find travel expenses can be refunded, for traveling to and from a board meeting. But there might be more help available. @ian_mcl shared an interesting idea for charity boards, which may help encourage younger candidates to consider a trustee role:

10. If you’re in Scotland, check out @GoodHQ for reviews and comments on charities in Scotland – this can help you research a role:


Two blogs were shared.  The first was a guest blog I wrote for OSCR’s website with top ten tips on due diligence.  The second blog was from @CT_charities, which made a good point about checking if induction support is available for new trustees.
And finally, news of our next #trusteehour on Tuesday 12th June 8-9pm – the topic is ‘When is it time for a trustee to step down?’ with thanks to @MairWCVA for the theme idea.

Blog by Julie Hutchison @juliekhutchison
Founding Editor of @InformedTrustee
5 June 2018

‘How to Encourage More People to Join Boards’ – Discussion at Trustee Week 2015 Conference Dundee

Tomorrow I shall be leading four table discussions on the topic of ‘How to Encourage More People to Join Boards’ at the Trustee Week Conference in Dundee.  Here are my notes and discussion questions.

I would value any comments that you may have. 

Aim of Discussion

To identify ways in which Trusteeship can be encouraged and how we can build relationships and networks to support the development of trustees in Scotland.


The Challenge: Encouraging more people to join boards

Trustees play a vital contribution to society across approximately 45,000 Voluntary Sector Organisations in Scotland (SCVO, 2010).  However, many third sector organisations find it difficult to recruit trustees and often rely on word-of-mouth to fill appointments.  In Edinburgh alone, the Volunteer Centre reports an estimated 90% of board-level vacancies, across 1800 Voluntary sector organisations.  Nevertheless, Scotland is not short of volunteers, with 1.2m adults (28% of Scotland’s population) undertaking volunteering activity each year.  Trusteeship is one form of volunteering that provides a unique experience to gain valuable skills at a strategic level and a great way to ‘grow’ and ‘give back’.  The Charity Commission report low levels of awareness amongst the public that a trusteeship can be regarded as a volunteering opportunity – less than 5% of people are aware that trusteeship can be a way to support a charity (Tomorrow’s World Telephone Omnibus Survey, 2006). There are also perception issues around the amount of time required to fulfil a trustee position, concerns with potential liabilities and interestingly some individuals believe they lack the necessary skills (DCLG, September 2008). Key to unlocking this is to promote the benefits of Trusteeship and to develop new and existing networks (i.e. existing volunteers, local interfaces, umbrella organisations, support groups) to communicate this message to inspire others.


Discussion 1. How can we encourage more people to consider being a Trustee?

Ensuring an effective board: Fit, skillsets and promoting diversity


Board’s to be effective need the right mix of skills, knowledge, backgrounds and experiences and perspectives to govern well, as well as embodying diversity in its widest sense (The NCVO Good Governance Guide, 2010).


At the 2013 Trustee Week Dundee Conference, there was a lot of discussion around ensuring the right ‘fit’ between the prospective trustee, board and the vision and values of the organisation.  Firstly, there was consensus that the individual should be passionate about what the organisation does and for some, have volunteered for the organisation in the past.  There was also general support for greater demographic diversity (e.g. age, gender, and ethnicity) on boards.


Charity Commission statistics show that (in England and Wales):
  • Average age of a trustee in the UK is 57, with 67% aged over 60.
Only 0.5% of the trustee population are aged 18 – 24 yet this equates for 12% of the total population.
  • Tends to be a 50:50 split between men & women in smaller organisations, but this shifts to 67:33 in larger charities (NCVO, 2012)
  • 9% of total board members were from ethnic minorities


Mackinnon (2014) notes that policy-makers and funders expect to see various groups represented yet be highly proficient at strategic planning, finance, employment etc., and also hold high levels of competence with the regulatory requirements that the voluntary sector and charities face.


Discussion 2: How can boards ensure the diversity of board members to reflect key stakeholder groups and the skillset required to govern effectively?


Recruiting trustees: Sources, network and support

Please see ‘Recruiting trustees – cast a wide net and take the long-term view’ provided by Ilse MacKinnon at the ‘Putting Trust in Trustees’ SCVO conference in Edinburgh (November, 2014).  As well as recruitment websites and local press; one source could include encouraging individuals who already have volunteered and may wish to take the next step.  Secondly, boards could actively seek local professionals with specific skillsets and functional knowledge (e.g. by contacting an accountant on LinkedIn who lives local).  Students are also great potential trustees as they are eager to grow, practice what they learn and ‘give back’; if not today but certainly could be the trustees of the future!


Discussion 3: How can third sector organisations build relationships to encourage existing volunteers, local professionals, and University and College students to join their boards? What training requirements might each group need?


Board diversity will curb governance scandals

Governance is a critical issue in any board room. Get it wrong and scandal won’t be far away – whether headlines about MPs expense scandal, horse-meat in ready meals, banks being bailed out by the taxpayer, or our leading football clubs given red cards by regulators.

Bank machineAt the root of each of these governance failures is leadership. It is often said that “the fish always stinks from the head”, and that’s because poor leadership infects the entire culture of an organisation. It breeds behaviours among decision makers that are underpinned by self-interest, continuing the disastrous domino effect. And yet, as we have found with the colossal sums needed to rescue our banks, the decisions of board members have a profound impact on people’s lives, particularly the vulnerable and our underrepresented young people.

Recent events have magnified the problem. What we desperately need now is a much greater emphasis on diversity in the board room if we truly want to improve the governance of organisations in the public, private and third sectors.

We already know diversity adds value to a board due to the variety of views, experiences and backgrounds included in the decisions that are made. It makes sense, whatever way you look at it, to have your customers, service users and wider society represented at the top level. Unfortunately, in 2014, we still have a situation where only some 12.5% of the members of FTSE 100 company boards are female, despite women making up over half of the population. A scandal in itself. But achieving gender-balanced boardrooms, according to The Equality and Human Rights Commission, could take over 70 years. We have to do better.

Specifically, to shorten the cycle, we must foster and nurture the next generation of emerging leaders from all walks of life to ensure such governance failures are avoided in the future. And this has to include providing opportunities for young people to participate in decision making, active citizenship and civic engagement.

In Edinburgh alone, for example, there are over 1,800 voluntary sector organisations but 90% report vacancies on their boards of trustees.  Not only is this bad for governance, these boards are predominately ‘grey’, with the Charity Commission reporting that the average age of a trustee is 57.  Young trustees enthusiasm for a range of causes across Scotland remains a relatively untapped resource. But there must also be the right level of support to help guide them.

Princes Street Gardens

It’s why I and colleagues at Edinburgh Napier University are pioneering an educational programme to give our students the skills to experience the boardroom. Our new ‘On Board’ course was first piloted by the Birmingham Leadership Foundation (BLF) in the wake of the city’s riots.  At that time, I was working there and used Twitter to lead the call to form the riot-clean up group. And what struck me was how young role models without any need for recognition came together in an act of solidarity to say “not in our name”.  Later, as a Young Trustee myself of BLF, we launched Birmingham’s Get on Board programme to nurture the next generation of future leaders and role models.  It’s been a life-affirming success.

In Edinburgh, we’re delivering the On-Board programme in partnership with the Association of Corporate Governance Practitioners to give students a formal qualification. They interview to take part and are chosen on merit. As it happened, two thirds of our first group of successful applicants ended up being female. Meanwhile, organisations such as the Voluntary Action Fund, Midlothian Play and ICE store have already recruited a ‘young trustee’ onto their boards.  It’s a step in the right direction.

In the future, we want to extend the programme to public and private organisations who wish to support staff keen to give something back to local communities.  Candidates will not only gain a university qualification with professional body recognition but a practical experience in good governance and ethical leadership.

In short, it comes down to passion, about a cause and contributing to people’s lives.   Trustee’s decisions provide the very glue that binds, in part, Scottish life.  In this year of Homecoming and the independence debate, we have an opportunity to celebrate the volunteers who make up Scotland’s civil society. Then comes 2018 – the year of young people in Scotland. It’s time for all of us to help celebrate and nurture their talents.

Dr Miles Weaver is a Senior Lecturer at Edinburgh Napier University’s School of Management.