Is It Necessary for a Charity’s Board of Trustees to be Diverse?

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Below Marcus Davey, Chief Executive and Artistic Director at Roundhouse, discusses the importance of diversity on the board, in particular pertaining to charities and their trustees.

A recent report by The Charity Commission found that a majority of charity trustees (92%) are white, older and above average income and education, and men outnumber women trustees on boards by two to one. This makes for quite sobering reading when we think about how wonderfully diverse the UK is and it makes me question what organisations might be missing out on.

I imagine many people reading this will be sat on a charity board due to their expertise in a certain field or passion for a cause – or may be considering it. Not only will you bring a wealth of knowledge, experience and contacts to the charity, but The Charity Commission report also highlighted that trustees’ contribution to charities amounts to a monetary equivalent of around £3.5 billion a year.

I wonder if you look around at how diverse your board is. Any organisation that wishes to develop, foster progressive attitudes and remain relevant must include a diverse range of people in its decision-making processes. This applies right up to the top of the organisation where we put young people at the heart. If your audience includes young people, then your board should too. We believe that greater diversity makes for better decision making.

We’ve been recruiting young trustees to the Roundhouse board annually since 2005 and over this time have seen a real transformation of our business. We’ve seen first-hand the impact young trustees have on both our organisation, helping us to remain relevant, and on young people.

One of the hardest challenges can be to convince the rest of your board that it’s a good idea, and for that we have two main arguments – representation and resilience. Your audience will be made up of people from a diverse mix of backgrounds and for conversations around the board table to be truly representative they need to have a voice in the room. Rather than having conversations about your audience, have conversations with them, which brings their experience right to the heart of the decision-making process. As well as being representative it can make your organisation more resilient. We have found our young trustees are able to challenge received wisdom, encourage innovation and drive change – all of which brings a fresh perspective, fosters a relationship of trust and ultimately new business ideas.

To make this change it’s vital to set aside seats allocated for young people or whichever demographic you feel is underrepresented so you can actively recruit. In the same way that you would for a specific skillset – finance, marketing, law – it will make sure you actively recruit a particular demographic. If it is young people you’re aiming for, many may not feel experienced enough to apply for a board position entirely off their own back, so having a specific role defined and reserved for their age group can give them the confidence they need to engage. And the recruitment process should always start with the community you serve as they will be the strongest advocates of what you do and dedicated to the aims of your organisation. It’s important not to make the barrier to entry too high when designing your application process so you don’t put candidates off. At the Roundhouse we recruit our young trustees for a one-year period. Recruiting annually brings a greater and more diverse group of voices to the board and helps us to share out the opportunity. In our experience it also makes it easier for young people to commit when they are often on the cusp of doing new things – further education, their first job or a recording career, for example.

Our young trustees have benefitted enormously too, developing a wide range of new skills in areas such as fundraising, finance and marketing. They’ve gained the opportunity to lead early on in their careers – or even while still in education – as well as access to senior leaders and representatives. This would be the same for any group who is underrepresented on your board and will ultimately help us develop a more inclusive and equal society.

We created a guide with Arts Council England, aimed at Chairs, Chief Executives and existing board members, to outline what organisations can achieve but more importantly the guide includes practical tips on how to prepare your board, how to build a talent pool, how to support young trustees and how to overcome potential challenges along the way.

During what are increasingly tough times for young people it’s more important than ever to provide them with adequate representation and a voice within our organisations. It’s time to give the leaders of tomorrow a platform today.

For more information and a copy of the guide visit www.roundhouse.org.uk/youthgovernance.

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