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Charity Commission report on trustees urges greater diversity

Charity Commission report on trustees urges greater diversity

Men outnumber women two to one, with 92% of white, older and above average income and education, newly published research from the has revealed.

The Charity Commission published its findings today (13 November), highlighting the need for charities to do more to promote diversity on their boards and encourage applications from women, young people and people from ethnic minority and socially diverse backgrounds.

The report, Taken on Trust, the awareness and effectiveness of charity trustees in England and Wales, involved around 3,500 trustees and was commissioned by the Office for Civil Society and the Charity Commission, and delivered by a consortium led by Cass Business School and The Cranfield Trust.

The research also finds that charity trustees, who are overwhelmingly volunteers, feel positively about their role and about the personal reward and satisfaction it gives them. It also highlights that trustees’ contribution to charities amounts to a monetary equivalent of around £3.5 billion a year.

Key findings:

  • 71% of charity chairs and 68% of charity treasurers are men
  • The average age of trustees is 55-64 years; over half (51%) are retired
  • 75% of trustees have household incomes above the national median
  • 60% of trustees have a professional qualification; 30% have post-graduate qualifications
  • 71% of trustees are recruited through an informal process
  • In 80% of charities trustees play both a governance role and an executive role – they have no staff or volunteers from whom they can seek support
  • 70% of trustees are involved in charities with an incomes of less than £100k a year
  • Trustees report lacking relevant legal, digital, fundraising, marketing and campaigning skills at board level
  • Trustees are concerned about their skills in dealing with fraud and external cyber-attack
  • Trustees seek support and advice from one another – 80% of all respondents regard this as their most important internal source of advice and support, with only 6% seeking guidance or training from an external provider
  • On average, trustees donate almost five hours a week to their trustee roles

The report also recommends that guidance and support for trustees should be reviewed and enhanced and should draw on developments in digital technology.

The Charity Commission, the regulator of charities in England and Wales, has published a formal response to the research, which points to the growing importance of charities to our society, as charities perform a wide range of public functions – such as medical research and animal welfare – and take increasing responsibility for the delivery of public services.

Helen Stephenson, Chief Executive of the Charity Commission, said:

“Trustees make a vital contribution to our society and communities up and down the country rely on their voluntary efforts. It is heartening that, despite the demands on their time and expertise, trustees are overwhelmingly positive about their role.

“But there is no room for complacency about the state of trusteeship. Trustees do not reflect the communities charities serve. Charities are therefore at risk of missing out on the widest range of skills, experience and perspective at board level. Uniformity at board level also puts charities at risk by creating a culture of “group think” where decision making can go unchallenged – something our casework bears out. Diversity of experience, approach and personality helps guard against such problems and enables any organisation to foster a culture that is conducive to good governance.”

Also published today, as part of the same research programme, is a report by The Cranfield Trust and the NCVO, which examines the advice and support available to charity trustees. It finds that uptake of formal support by trustees is low, and that trustees report finding difficulty in identifying appropriate support.

Amanda Tincknell, CBE, CEO of The Cranfield Trust said:

“The study of organisations providing services to trustees and boards identifies opportunities, which are also highlighted in the survey of individual trustees. Informal trustee recruitment is the norm, and joining a board is a point when people becoming trustees could be most receptive to information and learning about the role.

“Encouraging charities to use open recruitment approaches and improving signposting among support organisations will help trustees and the organisations they serve to develop their knowledge and skills. There’s a real opportunity to reach many more trustees and strengthen individuals and boards in their critical role.”



Melanie May is a journalist and copywriter specialising in writing both for and about the charity and marketing services sectors since 2001. She can be reached via

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