7 steps for recruiting great trustees


Every trustee knows that recruiting new board-members can be a daunting task. How do you find someone who really cares about your cause with the right skills and experience, a personality and background which complements the existing board members as well as the time available to make a genuine contribution?

Given that most boards aren’t static and the needs of both the organisation and the individual trustees are constantly changing, recruiting new board members is an on-going issue for most non-profits. That’s why getting your board to agree on a structured and thorough approach to recruitment is one of the most effective ways to ensure that the long-term governance of your organisation is not only secure but efficient, well-rounded and fit to take on whatever challenges may lie ahead.

1. Get the Board on-board:

The whole board needs to be engaged with the process of recruiting new members. The first step of any recruitment process is to ensure that you know what you really need. The best way to go about this is to conduct a skills-audit. Bear in mind the direction of the organisation and anticipated projects or challenges that may be faced in the future, to ascertain the kind of expertise the board will need to make well-rounded and informed decisions.

2. Draw up an interesting role description

Once you have identified the key skills and experience your board needs to excel, it’s time to draw up a role description. Try to avoid focusing on the standard duties of a trustee, instead highlight the most interesting aspects of the role. For instance, outlining the challenges faced by the organisation as well as its future prospects will breathe life into the role and give a sense of what issues the new trustee will be engaging with in real terms. In addition, it’s always a good idea to include a sense of what the impact of the role will be on the organisation and what benefits the new trustee can expect to receive by joining the board.

3. Promotion

To ensure you get a diverse mix of applications, it’s really important to promote the role as widely as possible. Many organisation still limit their recruitment process to their personal network of connections and, whilst this may prove effective and save a little time, in the long run it’s much more beneficial for the organisation as a whole to look further afield: advertise externally using online job-boards, utilise social media, create a page on your website advertising the role and don’t rule out utilising a recruitment service. The quality and number of applicants is going to be largely dependent on how thorough and broad your publicity of the role is. Remember, there are a whole host of free resources out there specifically designed to help non-profits source trustees from a broader pool of candidates: TrusteeWorks, Small Charities Coalition Trustee Finder, Do-It, CharityJob, NCVO Trustee Bank.

4. Communication, communication, communication

It’s really important to ensure that, when you have received applications you make prompt contact with the applicants. Due to voluntary nature of the role, it’s wrong to assume that an applicant will remain interested indefinitely, particularly if there is a significant gap between receiving the application and interview. Taking the time to thank your applicants for their application and to set out a clear time-frame for the process reinforces the professional approach of your organisation and works wonders in retaining a candidate’s interest up until the point of interview.

5. Short-listing and Interview

  • a) Your short-listing and interview process should be structured (even if this is only in an informal way). The board as a whole should be involved in reviewing the applications. It’s a really good idea to give potential candidates a phone call to informally discuss their viability for the role before you blindly dismiss or shortlist them: remember that CVs and covering letters cannot be trusted as definitive endorsements of either a person’s skills or personality and it’s well worth taking the time to talk with your candidates before you take their application further.
  • b) Your interview process should be equally considered. Take the time to draw up questions which uniquely relate to the organisations requirements and those of the role itself, don’t be afraid to ask about motivation and invite searching questions from the interviewee as well. This open approach will elicit real answers to real questions and allow the candidates personality to shine through too. This is essential for gauging whether someone is the right fit for the role, a process which is best reached through mutuality.

6. Induction

Hooray! You’ve chosen a new board member! This is great news but you’re work isn’t done yet. To make sure that your new trustee takes the role seriously and, equally, is empowered to work to the best of their abilities you need to ensure that they have a clear, in-depth understanding of how the organisation functions. Make sure they have a copy of the memorandum and articles of association. If they are new to trusteeship, direct them to the appropriate resources so that they are completely clear about their responsibilities. Arrange an opportunity to meet the staff and, most importantly, the CEO, to get a feel for who runs the organisation and how they do it. If there are still minor question marks over the new board member, invite them to join board meetings as an observer. It’s better to make sure you have the right person in place through careful induction than to end up with a trustee that doesn’t fit the bill.

7. Review

As in any job, it’s important to ensure that your new trustee is comfortable in their role and that they feel supported and empowered to contribute to the decision making of the board to the best of their ability. To this end, it’s really useful to touch base with the new trustee 3-6 months after their appointment. This is usually undertaken by the Chair in a private setting that allows any issues or concerns to arise outside the scrutiny of the board. This is also a really valuable moment to take stock of the trustee’s initial impressions; remember that they bring a fresh pair of eyes to the practices of the board, the culture of the organisation and its future prospects. For this reason, it may well be the case that they have noticed things which longstanding board members have not.

This blog by Luke was originally published on the Third Sector blog.

Luke heads up Reach’s TrusteeWorks team
November 13th, 2014 by