Diversity: the key to a strong, resilient board by Lew Headley, VCSE & Community Development Officer

Here at Community Impact Bucks we have taken part in Trustees’ Week to celebrate and thank the many trustees who give their invaluable time and skills to charities and voluntary groups in the county.

I also wanted to use the week to seize the opportunity to talk about the importance of having people from all walks of life and backgrounds on our charity boards and management committees. From my own experience  – as a trustee, a mentor and adviser to voluntary groups – I have seen the benefits of having a real mix of people involved in leading our charities, making sure they are running well and are doing what they are set up to do.

As with the rest of the UK, certain social groups – whether that is by gender, ethnicity, culture, age, disability or LGBTQ+ to name just a few – are still underrepresented on the majority of Buckinghamshire’s charity boards. Here are some of my thoughts about why this needs to change and how we can go about it.

First, we should look at why we should have more diverse boards

All voluntary groups have a responsibility to ensure that they reflect the communities they serve. In reality, only 41% of charity boards are representative of the communities they help[i], and only 8% of trustees in 100 major UK charities are from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities[ii].  The Young Trustees Movement has found that only 3% of charity trustees are under 30[iii].

However, a diverse range of individuals make a board or committee stronger and more effective. This  summed up perfectly by Annekatrin Madlung, member of Bucks Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic (BAME): “For an organisation to be able to quickly adapt to change, the diversity and inclusive working of the Board is indispensable, as it prevents group-think. The diversity of knowledge enables deeper conversations and allows for a broader range of thoughts and ideas to be expressed. This leads to better decision-making and therefore reduces risks and increases organisational resilience.”

Organisations need to show they are inclusive. While a new approach to bringing new trustees on board may seem daunting – 71% of trustees in 2017 were recruited through an informal process[iv] – there are some simple steps that can be taken to remove barriers that can potentially stop people from coming forward:

  • Make paperwork simple and concise as possible, easy to understand
  • State clearly that trustees can claim for reasonable expenses, such as travel expenses
  • Set board meetings at times that suit individuals you want to attract – for example, if you want to recruit young volunteers avoid office hours when they are at college/university
  • Make venues accessible for all people
  • Provide a good induction programme for new trustees – for example, if a young person has all the right qualities to become a trustee but lacks experience at board level,  think about what support could be offered. Is there someone on the board that could mentor that young person?
  • Think about where you are advertising for your trustees – perhaps put an ad in Black and Asian Community Association, or approach student unions

Second, we need to attract and convince people we need on our boards.

There are many people who have never thought of volunteering on a board or, if they have, they have been unsure that they will fit in.

I was recently talking to a young man who was approached at 18 years old to become a trustee. He explained how he faced a number of barriers: he was the youngest trustee on the board, the only person of colour, and often didn’t understand much of the language in charity laws. He sometimes felt a little out of place and intimidated at times.

However, in his trustee role which was specifically to engage with young people, he flourished and made great links within his community. Not only did he help increase the number of beneficiaries, he developed new skills, gained experience and stayed with the organisation for many years.

From a personal experience, like this young man, being a trustee or board member has helped to build my confidence. By learning new skills and being part of decision making, it was a really rewarding experience and becoming a mentor is one of the best things I have ever done. Not only does it add to my CV, but it helped to shape the person that I am now.

We need to capture these potential trustees and convince them to take the next step.

Now we need to make change happen.

If you are thinking about volunteering on a board, go for it: you will not lose anything but you will gain a lot. Giving something back to your community is rewarding and you – no matter your age or background – will have something to offer. You can find out more about what is involved and current vacancies here.

If you are part of charity or voluntary group which is looking to recruit new members to your board or management committee and would like advice, I am here to help. You can contact me on lew@communityimpactbucks.org.uk/ 01844 617229. You can also access online advice on our website including how to develop and advertise your trustee role , board diversity and a wide range of resources to help trustees carry out their roles.

[i] Getting on Board, 2017
[ii] ARTD
[iii] Young Trustees Movement
[iv] Bayes 2017