Diversifying your Board – the benefits for small charities

March 3, 2014 at 10:52

Alex Swallow, Chief Executive of the Small Charities Coalition tells us…

Having a diverse Board makes a real difference to the prospects for your charity. There are two types of diversity that are important here, which are closely linked.

The first is diversity of skills – a charity Board will typically need finance skills, comms skills, legal skills, fundraising skills, research skills and so on. The second is every other form of diversity: age, gender, ethnicity etc. In order to get the best trustees possible you need a board that is open to a great variety of people, not one that simply replicates itself whenever there are board positions up for grabs. A wider pool will mean better candidates with a greater variety of different things to bring to the table. Also it is important- for beneficiaries, staff, other volunteers, and the bigger web of supporters who care about the charity, that the make-up of a board reflects who they are too, rather than being from a narrow group.

Diversity is particularly important for small charities, because small charities can’t survive without open networks bringing new ideas, information and funding into their organisations. Small charities are unlikely to be able to pay to bring in all the expertise that they require. Many small charities don’t have staff and those that do probably don’t have enough staff to cover all of the skills required for the charity to be run successfully, to be sustainable, and to make the biggest impact on the cause it focuses on. In order to be most effective a small charity should consider a skills audit and then bring in new trustees who can help with the areas of less strength.

Reaching out to a diverse range of trustees is even more important when thinking about who might be able to help a small charity with financial expertise. Treasurers and other trustees who have financial skills are greatly in demand. Charities need good financial reporting in order to make sound strategic plans, properly assess risk, measure impact successfully and bring in funding. Even though smaller charities may be dealing with small amounts of money, this means that the importance of every pound is magnified. A board who can make sound financial decisions both in the short term but also looking ahead to the future are doing a great service to their charity. In casting a wide net when looking for trustees, and in carefully considering the skills gaps in the charity, small charities have a much better chance both to survive and to thrive.