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Everyone has a different picture of a perfect board, but many not-for-profit organisations struggle to release time and money to build board capacity to get closer to that perfect picture.
We’ve put together some thoughts and free starter activities to boost your board’s understanding of their roles and responsibilities. There are two major opportunities for improving your board, recruiting in the skills/experience you lack or up-skilling the current team as part of an annual or strategic review.
1) Recruiting the right board members
Your Governance document will tell you how many Trustees you need on the board, how long they can serve for, and how they can be elected and removed from the board. Numbers matter, but in this instance, quality is definitely preferred over quantity.
Before advertising the vacancy, consider conducting a simple skills audit of the current board members and discuss what you really need to get your organisation closer to achieving its vision…
Once you have decided the profile of the person you need, write your own clear specification rather than using a generic template. Consider where this person may see your advert and focus your publicity there. For example, if you are looking for a local resident, advertising via the local CVS network probably won’t work, but a poster in the local library or community building might grab their attention.
Your interview and induction processes are just as important as finding the right person. You are setting the tone of how you want them to conduct themselves going forward. Be clear about what you want them to do, how you want them to do it and what they can expect from you and the rest of the board in return. I would also recommend giving them a copy of the Essential Trustee Guide, especially if this is their first appointment to a board.
Trustee Skills Audit Document FINAL
Download PDF • 271KB
If you need a refresher on your compliance obligations around Trustee recruitment due diligence checks, have a look at this guide from the Charity Commission.
2) Up-skilling and increasing participation from current board members
In smaller charities, Trustees are often people with a passion for your organisation but may lack knowledge or experience of Charity Law and Governance. Their understanding of how a board operates may be limited to their experience within this one organisation. This is not a problem when there is a broad skillset across the board to share the legal responsibility.
However, some boards do not have that shared skillset meaning the fundamental framework in which the board operates could be at best, inefficient and, at worst, negligent.
To check you have the right ‘checks and balances’ in place you could consider carrying out an internal health check using the Charity Governance Code as a starting point. Their website has a full diagnostic tool for both small and large charities:
Assessing governance code – small charit
Download • 157KB
Assessing governance code – large charit
Download • 169KB
This document should form your capacity building task list in which the board work toward bridging any gaps and defining clear board roles and responsibilities. These might be easy fixes, such as clearer reporting requirements for operational staff, or more serious gaps which require expertise in the form of consultancy or recruiting additional board members.
The important thing is to identify the gaps and take steps toward bridging them with clear timescales and individuals attached to tasks. Recording this process also demonstrates your intention to continuously improve the Governance of your organisation.
If you have concerns about how your Trustee board is operating or have a desire to get it closer to that ‘perfect picture’, we offer facilitated workshops and tailored coaching to ensure compliance and best practice are embraced. The introductory activities discussed in this blog form phase one of a much deeper process, so please do see them as a starting point and not a ‘job done’.
Registered provider for the North East Business Support Fund and RTC North.

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