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The barriers women face in securing trustee roles

by Stephen Conmy on Oct 11, 2021

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Penny Wilson

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Getting On Board UK

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In this illuminating member’s session, Penny Wilson, CEO of Getting on Board UK, outlines the problems and the barriers women face in securing trustee roles.

How many charity board positions are there in the UK?

‘The 700,000 trustees in England and Wales are the backbone of the charity sector,’ says Penny Wilson. ‘They are long-term volunteers responsible for effective charity governance.’

Charities need good, diverse governance. ‘It holds the key to resilience and sustainability for charities,’ says Wilson.

‘Trustees and charities need to be equipped to serve communities and maximise their impact. This matters more than ever in the current crisis.’

Key Takeaways:

  • During the COVID crisis in the UK, charities experienced a 42% increase in demand for their services but a 48% decline in voluntary income (NCVO/CFG/IoF research).
  • Strong governance is never more important, says Wilson.
  • There are 168,000 charities in England and Wales. However, most are not big charities. 75% have an income of less than £100k a year. The total income of the sector is c.£76b. (March 2018 figs).
  • About 2,000 trustees are appointed on average every week in the UK, so it is an active sector for board roles.
  • Charities need ambitious people with strategic experience, exposure to other skills, credibility, and networking ability.
  • However, 75% of charities say they struggle to find the trustees they need.
  • Only 10% of trustee roles are advertised. Meanwhile, charities are facing a complex landscape of challenges that only 14% of organisations feel equipped to deal with.

Who is missing from charity boards?

  • Young people: only 0.5% of trustees are 18-24, despite making up 12% of the population. 2/3 of charity trustees are over 50.
  • Women: 36% of trustees.
  • People of colour: 8% of trustees.
  • Lived experience: 59% of charities say their boards don’t reflect the communities they serve.
  • Skills, knowledge, experience.

What are the barriers to women securing trustee positions?

Barrier 1: Not knowing how to navigate the application process

  • Having questions/concerns and not knowing who to ask
  • Not sure where to start, e.g. identifying causes
  • Not as simple as just applying since most roles are never advertised, also unprofessional processes
  • No one to ask about due diligence, particularly if never worked in or for charities – what is normal?

Barrier 2: Assuming you will join the board of a large national charity

  • 75% of charities have an income <£100,000

Barrier 3: Not being able to represent your assets well

  • CVs are not written for positions outside your sector and profession
  • What are charities looking for? Passion plus useful skills, knowledge, and experience

Barrier 4: Thinking you have to wait to be invited to become a trustee

  • Vacancy problem – numbers
  • 75% of charities struggle to get the skills they need
  • There is also a diversity problem – a huge lack of diversity on charity boards

Tips on landing a trustee role include:

  • Read Getting on Board’s guide ‘How to become a charity trustee’
  • Identify cause (s) you are passionate about
  • Be clear on what you will bring to a trustee role
  • Look at vacancies (research charities further)
  • Prepare a strong CV and cover letter
  • Make applications and do cold approaches
  • Participate in Getting on Board training

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