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British Board Types? Obsessives, Colonels and Gong Hunters!

22 January 2015 at 10:14 am
Xavier Smerdon
Britain’s charities are facing skills gaps on their trustee boards according to new research which also found there are too many ‘Obsessives,’ ‘Colonels’ and ‘Gong Hunters’ on British boards.

Xavier Smerdon | 22 January 2015 at 10:14 am


British Board Types? Obsessives, Colonels and Gong Hunters!
22 January 2015 at 10:14 am

Britain’s charities are facing skills gaps on their trustee boards according to new research which also found there are too many ‘Obsessives,’ ‘Colonels’ and ‘Gong Hunters’ on British boards.

According to the research 47 per cent of trustees recognise there are skills gaps on their boards and 46 per cent say their charity doesn’t appraise the performance of board members.

Specialist Trustee recruitment organisation, Trustees Unlimited, surveyed its database of 2,000 trustees in November 2014 to understand more about how board performance is measured and the contribution trustees make to enhance their organisation’s performance.

The skills gaps cited by the trustees included legal, HR and fundraising as well as social media, marketing and communications.

However, the survey noted some unusual styles of behaviour.

While over 70 per cent recognised the ‘Helpful Person’ who always offers their time and input, nearly 46 per cent recognised the ‘Obsessive’ who pays too much attention to the small details and 36 per cent recognised the ‘Parsley on the Fish’ – a board member that looks good, but doesn’t do much.

The survey found that there are also many ‘Colonels’ on Britain’s boards – trustees who are excellent at giving direction and opinions, but not so good at action, and almost a quarter of respondents said they recognised the ‘Gong Hunter’, someone who is only looking for glory.

The survey found that less than half (44 per cent) said their charity undertakes board member appraisals every year, 10 per cent have appraisals every two years and 46 per cent are never appraised.  

Over a third said their Chair isn’t appraised either. While over half of the trustees said their terms of office were three to five years, almost a third of admitted there were no fixed terms of office for trustees.

Despite recognising skills gaps, charities are recruiting new trustees by word of mouth (16 per cent) and mainly through their own networks (42 per cent). Around a third use recruitment agencies or job boards and only eight per cent advertise vacancies.

“On the one hand it is commendable that almost 50 per cent of organisations recognise where they have skills gaps, however, it’s extraordinary that almost half of trustees are unaware of the skills they are lacking,”  Chief Executive of Trustees Unlimited, Ian Joseph said.

“It is also worrying to see that the approach to appraising board performance is so variable when governance is more important than ever. A lack of diverse skills on a board is a huge risk. By relying on word of mouth or using their own networks to recruit trustees, charities are really limiting their talent pool. Having no fixed terms for trustees also prevents talent coming through.

“There is a wealth of talented people out there who would be interested in becoming a trustee. However, charities must be more innovative to reach them – using social media channels and other recruitment methods to attract them. If they don’t, they will get left behind and the skills gaps will widen.”

According to trustees, the top skills needed around the boardroom table are leadership, finance and chairing skills.  

The most desirable characteristic of a good trustee is contributing to the organisation’s performance (32 per cent), followed by strategic thinking and being passionate about the cause.

“To be a good trustee takes many skills but also a firm commitment to the role and the charity cause,” Joseph said.

“It is the responsibility of the Chair to bring out the best in trustees – using their skills in the right way, ensuring that meetings are run effectively and that everyone makes a valuable contribution at each meeting.

“There is no room for Colonels and Gong Hunters on charity boards, especially given charities are under ever increasing scrutiny from the public and from their regulators. Having trustees not up to the job is simply unacceptable.”


Xavier Smerdon  |  Journalist  |  @XavierSmerdon

Xavier Smerdon is a journalist specialising in the Not for Profit sector. He writes breaking and investigative news articles.

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