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Trustee Diversity

Trustee Diversity
Friday 1st December 2017

New research commissioned by the Office for Civil Society and the Charity Commission recommends that charities 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 was delivered by a consortium led by Cass Business School and the Cranfield Trust, in which approximately 3,500 trustees were surveyed in order to identify current statistics in relation to the diversity of trustee boards.

Generally speaking, the research found that there are twice as many male trustees as there are female, and that the overwhelming majority of trustees are white, older and possess an above average income and education. Interestingly, further research conducted by Charity Data actually illustrated that one in every twelve trustees are named either John or David! Nonetheless, despite this lack of diversity, research also found that trustees ‘feel positively’ about their role and the personal reward and satisfaction it provides them with.

A more detailed account of the findings is as follows:

·         Men comprise 71% of charity chair persons and 68% of charity treasurers;

·         the average age of charity trustees is 55 – 64, over half of whom are retired;

·         75% of charity trustees have household incomes above the national median;

·         60% of charity trustees possess a professional qualification and 30% possess post-graduate qualifications;

·         71% of charity trustees are recruited by way of an informal process;

·         80% of charities do not have staff/volunteers and so their trustees take on both a governance and executive role;

·         70% of trustees are involved in charities with an income of less than £100k per year;

·         Charity trustees report lacking relevant legal, digital, fundraising, marketing and campaigning skills at board level;

·         Charity trustees are concerned in relation to their skills in dealing with fraud and external cyber-attacks;

·         Only 6% of charity trustees seek external advice, guidance or training; and

·         On average, trustees donate approximately 5 hours per week to their role.

The Commission has since published a response to the research, available at: The response illustrates the growing importance of charities in modern society as they perform a wide range of public functions, deliver an increasing number of public services and tackle a plethora of ongoing issues.

Helen Stephenson, Chief Executive at the Commission, advised that whilst the research findings do offer encouragement, they highlight fundamental issues in relation to the diversity of trustee recruitment.

In a recent statement Stephenson explained that “trustees make a vital contribution to our society, and communities up and down the country rely on their voluntary efforts”, but that “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”. This is reflected in the research as trustees themselves report lacking skills in key areas, including digital skills.  

A lack of diversity can also result in a ‘group think’ culture, whereby decision making often goes unchallenged. Diversified boards, including a variety of experienced individuals and personalities helps to guard against this sort of culture which inevitably inhibits the true potential of many trustee boards.

It is hoped that the research encourages charities to promote diversity amongst their boards and to provide existing trustees with the support they require.


It comes as no surprise that the research discussed above has identified a lack of diversity. The role of trustee is one that requires high levels of care and attention and is more often than not a voluntary role. With this in mind, it naturally follows that those more likely to take up such a role are those individuals with more time to dedicate to the role, hence why over half of all trustees are retired. However, this is not to say that it is impossible to find the time required to dedicate to the role whilst also working. What charities should take away from this research is that they would benefit from a balanced and diverse trustee board and should actively consider this when recruiting trustees.

Indeed the new Charity Governance Code lists diversity as one of its seven key principles and advises charities to encourage inclusive and accessible participation, recruit diverse trustees and monitor and report on their boards’ diversity.

With charities playing an increasingly more important role in society, it is important that they have a diverse driving force, enabling the charity to deliver its objects to the best of its ability.  

Rebecca Tucker is a Paralegal in the Charities and Social Enterprise Department at Brabners LLP. If you would like to discuss any of the points raised in this blog please do not hesitate to contact Rebecca on 0151 600 3064 or