The choice of charity trustees is crucial to the smooth running of any charity, but there are no hard and fast rules on how to go about making choices. Both charity law and the Regulator allow considerable freedom to charities in populating their boards, provided of course that any constitutional requirements are met.

At a joint seminar hosted by Turcan Connell and iMultiply Resourcing in Glasgow on 21st June, there was a discussion around how trustees should be chosen for their skills and experience, what the optimum size of a charity board is and the selection processes which can be used. Other key topics covered included:

  • How charity trustees have to manage links with third parties and conflicts of interest;
  • How trustees can better be prepared for their roles through induction, training and appraisal processes; and
  • How to promote diversity on a board, wider than simply diversity of race and gender.

The speakers included Gavin McEwan, Head of Charities at Turcan Connell, who also spoke about regulatory examples of cases where the composition of a charity board had gone wrong – either because of technical issues related to the charity test, or because a charity failed owing to a lack of key skills or a lack of ownership of decision making.

Kirsty Mackenzie and Debbie Shields of iMultiply spoke about the time commitment involved in being a board member, and gave interesting insights into how charity trustees should consider diversity of education, social background and personality when deciding on the composition of their own trustee boards. Graham Watson, a charity trustee of several charities including Scottish Health Innovations Ltd, also spoke about his own involvement at charity board level and provided his own thoughts about what makes a good board of charity trustees.

Lessons from the charity Regulators (both OSCR and the Charity Commission for England and Wales) show that boards of charity trustees need to include all of the critical skills necessary for the smooth running of their own charity, with an ability to exercise independence of judgement, taking advice when needed.

A failure to obtain up to date financial information on a regular basis is another key failing common to many charity insolvencies and failures to refresh leadership or to correct serious weaknesses are also regular themes. Effective boards, comprised of the right charity trustees, will deal with these and other issues in promoting the activities and reputation of their charities: charity boards do matter.