Trustees’ Week 2023 Day 2 - Diversity on your Board

The board of trustees play a vital and central role in overseeing the work of the charity and ensuring its success. Too often however, a charity’s board does not accurately reflect the people who the charity helps.

Research commissioned by the Charity Commission and the Office for Civil Society in 2017 revealed some startling statistics:

  • 92% of trustees are white, older and above average income and education;
  • 71% of chairs are men and 68% of charity treasures are men;
  • The average age of trustees is 55-64 years; 51% are retired.
  • Only 0.5% of the trustee population is made up of 18-24-years-old.

These statistics, stark as they are, will probably not come as a surprise to anyone working within this sector.

Has the position improved since 2017?

In some ways, yes. Research by NCVO with Nottingham Trent University and Sheffield Hallam University in July 2021 found that nearly 4 out of 5 voluntary organisations had plans to address equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) and 59% had revised their EDI approach since March 2020.

But don’t get me wrong, diversity on charity boards is still a huge challenge for the sector and the NCVO reports that 81% of charities recruit for trustees by word of mouth or personal recommendation. This results in a much higher probability of trustees all having similar experiences and perspectives which can limit discussion and harm well-rounded and balanced decision-making and result in a more homogenous group of trustees.

What is EDI?

Whilst there is no one complete set of agreed definitions for terms like equality, diversity and inclusion a starting point has been set out by the NCVO as follows:

  • Equality: Equality means making sure that every individual has equal opportunities. By being conscious of and actively challenging bias or prejudice we make sure no one is treated less favourably because of who they are or what makes them different from other people. This requires a proactive approach to make reasonable adjustments that address the visible and invisible barriers people face.
  • Diversity: Diversity means having differences within an organisation or setting. Diversity recognises we are all different in many ways. People with differing identities, backgrounds and experiences should all have equitable access to resources and decision-making. Some people prefer to use the term ‘representation’ to focus on how organisations should be reflective of the society we live in and the communities we serve.
  • Inclusion: Inclusion means being proactive to make sure people of different backgrounds, experiences and identities feel welcomed, respected and fully able to participate. It is not only about creating a diverse environment but also about making sure that a culture exists where individuals can be their full selves.

What does it mean to have a diverse board?

People often think that having a diverse board means that not every trustee is a white older male. However, diversity on the board is wider than that and includes having a variety of backgrounds, experiences, perspectives, and demographics.

  1. Demographic Diversity: differences in age, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and disability status.
  2. Professional and Expertise Diversity: having a wide range of professional backgrounds and expertise to the table, such as legal, financial, marketing, healthcare, or technology expertise.
  3. Geographic Diversity: this is especially important for charities that serve a broad area. Trustees from different locations may have a better understanding of regional needs and challenges.
  4. Socioeconomic Diversity: trustees are predominantly from higher income households so may benefit from the views of someone from a different socioeconomic background.
  5. Cultural and Religious Diversity: this can aid in understanding and respecting the different values, beliefs, and practices of the communities served by the charity.

Why does EDI matter for your charity?

Your board should try to reflect the community that your charity serves, as those needs are often best understood by individuals who have lived those experiences. A board consisting of diverse members is better equipped to empathize with and comprehend the multifaceted challenges that your community face.

  • Diverse boards bring a broader range of perspective to the decision-making process. They enable a healthy exchange of ideas, which leads to more innovative and creative solutions. Diverse board members are likely to approach problems from unique angles, offering alternative viewpoints that can reveal previously unconsidered solutions. This diversity of thought can lead to more robust, adaptable strategies that better respond to evolving challenges.
  • Diversity fosters cultural competence, which is essential for a charity to engage effectively with a wide range of communities. By having board members with diverse cultural backgrounds, the charity is better equipped to navigate potential pitfalls related to cultural insensitivity. It also helps in creating culturally relevant and sensitive programs, which is essential for effective outreach and engagement.
  • Diverse boards can attract a broader range of talents and skills. When prospective board members see a charity’s commitment to diversity, they are more inclined to get involved. This can result in a pool of board candidates with diverse expertise, skills, and networks, which can be invaluable for the charity’s growth and impact.
  • Additionally, a diverse board is a reflection of social justice and equity values, which often underlie a charity’s mission. It sends a powerful message that the charity is dedicated to promoting fairness and inclusivity, not just in its programs but also within its leadership structure. This consistency between values and actions is not only ethically sound but also resonates with potential supporters who share these ideals.

Where do you start in ensuring Board diversity that is right for your charity?

It is vital to begin this process only after your board has committed to building an inclusive culture and inclusive practices. Moving straight to the process of recruitment when this first step has not been taken is a challenge, as diversity is only sustainable and impactful when this environment is created.

This may require a period of discussion, reflection and learning and the creation of policies and processes to enable it to happen. Once you have done this, you should identify any gaps in representation or experience within your board and look to recruit trustees based on those needs. You should appoint someone because they are a good addition to the board rather than just to tick a diversity box.

There is guidance out there to help trustees start on this journey and the NCVO, the Charity Commission, the Trustee Recruitment Cycle, Charity Excellence Framework and Getting Onboard’s websites are really good places to start.

The Trustee Recruitment Cycle | Reach Volunteering


Charity Trustee Board Recruitment – How To Recruit Trustees (

Home | Getting on Board | United Kingdom | Recruit trustees | Become a trustee

Please get in touch with the Charities Team at Geldards if you would like assistance with your charity’s equality and diversity policy.

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