A good mix of skills and personalities is the key to an effective trustee board. This guide and the associated example template will help you to find the best trustees for your charity or non-profit board.
The guide explores two different approaches to finding the right trustees - personality type and practical skills. Of course, there are many ways to approach personality types and myriad personality tests that can help you with this. We set out one simple approach but we also recommend some more complex tests and methods you can explore if you wish.
Personality types on your trustee board
It can be easy to focus on practical skills first: who will look after the finances? who will review policies? Practical skills are essential but don’t neglect the ‘soft’ skills. This section explores some simple personality types for you to consider. Ideally, your board will represent a good range of these personality types.
A board is just like any other team or group: it has the capacity to grow and improve but is unlikely to do so without some intentional skills development. Some people are great at pushing your board forward and keeping it learning.
The People Person
Directors and trustees often have to make hard decisions and manage change, both inside the board and within the organisation they govern. This needs people of diplomacy, tact and compassion.
It can sound naive, but the drive and energy that comes from genuine enthusiasm can be a powerful force when harnessed by a well-balanced board. This can often be an argument for youth and new faces, but not necessarily so.
Most organisations can benefit from partnerships and external input. It is therefore important to have people on the board who know how to network, manage external relationships and advocate.
Boards should be active in shaping the future direction of their organisation. For this reason, they need people who anticipate future challenges and generate vision.
A major part of trustees’ legal responsibility is to keep a charity accountable for its objects and best practice. This requires board members to spot problems quickly and understand an operational context they are not part of on a day-to-day basis.
Here are some other personality tests you might consider exploring with your board:
Practical skills on your trustee board
Things need to get done, and this requires practical skills. Here are the key areas to cover in the makeup of your board:
Who will scrutinise the annual accounts? Who will keep an eye on cash flow and income generation?
In broad terms, there are three key legal areas to cover:
|Employment / HR||employee handbooks, redundancy, employment contracts, etc.|
|Charity/company law||compliance with charity and company regulations, articles of associations, the restrictions on what a charity can do, etc.|
|Data protection||with the introduction of GDPR having a good handle on data management is crucial.|
Sector knowledge is rarely a prerequisite for all board members because a more external view is often helpful. However, strong sector knowledge to support the executive management team can be valuable.
No organisation can be on the top of its game without making the most of technology. Although detailed technical skills are not always needed for the high-level input given by the board, understanding of the deployment and maintenance of well-integrated IT systems is a big plus.
Well-run charities communicate well with their stakeholders, clients and beneficiaries. However, forming and implementing an integrated communication strategy is not straightforward and there are lots of red herrings out there. You need someone who can hold communications activity to account against your objectives and have an imagination about new directions and approaches.
Marketing is about understanding how to tell your story in a compelling way. It’s also about understanding your community of supporters: who are they and what they want from you as a charity?
The marketing channels that work in one setting may not work in another. It’s important that your board have an understanding of how to measure and evaluate different marketing approaches.
Funding is the life-blood of any organisation. It’s helpful to have people on the board with a good understanding of how to define an appropriate fundraising strategy and then put it into practice. This may be an experience of managing large bids, event fundraising or development of a community of individual givers.
The skills audit example template
Building a board with a good range of the skills discussed above is easier said than done! Our free skills audit template (above) provides a starting point for understanding your current board and identifying gaps. The download provides a link to a pre-configured Google Form that you can send to your board and instructions on how to use the form.