How do we build more diverse charity boards?

We are recruiting up to three new trustees for Mayday Trust. We have a really high-performing board, but we have some vacancies, a couple of skills and networks gaps (including finance), and we’ve recognised that our board does not reflect the diversity of the people we aim to support, nor of our team. My experience is that a team’s diversity, as well as being the right way to live our values, is strongly linked to its effectiveness in many areas, such as its ability to recognise and respond to a wider range of risks and opportunities, and to avoid group-think.

Over a couple of cycles of recruitment, we’ve been taking lots of advice on how to diversify our board. Organisations which we’ve learned from include Race Equality Foundation, Charity So White, Queer Trustees , Action on Trustee Racial Diversity and Getting on Board – those last two have great free guides to diversifying boards. Some advice has been about how we present ourselves in pictures and language: we had diversity we weren’t showing the world, and we benefitted from checking our adverts for unconscious bias in our language using tools like this one. We’ve looked hard at our recruitment packs through a diversity lens and changed them a lot with input from the whole team. With each new version, we realised there was still more to do. We also needed to make a clearer commitment about equity, diversion and inclusion at every level, which led us to form an EDI group, and develop and publish a plan. And to recognise that achieving it will be a starting point, but far from the end goal.

We also looked at what really mattered to us in who we were looking for. Previously, we’d specified prior board experience, because we are a national charity with many complex challenges, but we recognised that this would perpetuate that lack of diversity. So now we have welcomed applications from first time trustees. That’s meant offering support with CV writing, informal chats, a Meet the Team session, support to understand the role ahead of interview, and more intensive support and buddying to take on the role. We will probably learn much more about what’s needed if anyone who is new to being a trustee takes us up on the offer. We’ve also offer the option of applying with a video instead of a covering letter. This was partly with inclusion in mind, which raises the question of how we could make a trustee role genuinely accessible for someone who had barriers to accessing text-based information, given how much of our current governance relies on lengthy and detailed board papers.

We also would like to find someone with experience of going through tough times or facing broken public service systems. Most of our meetings are online and we pay travel expenses of course, but we have also needed to recognise that people may have other financial barriers, so we have offered help with childcare costs or the cost of IT equipment or broadband.

All of these are an investment at a time when money is very tight, but as a team we’ve decided that diversity at every level is a non-negotiable. Now that we’ve made the changes we have, they actually feel pretty basic – things we should always have been doing, but which I know we are far from the only charity not to have in place. We’re still learning and are undoubtedly still getting things wrong, so I’d love to hear from charities which have gone further down this road than we have about what you learned along the way.

Here’s one of our brilliant new trustees, Halima Khan, talking about her experience of Mayday so far:


2 thoughts on “How do we build more diverse charity boards?

  1. Eve March 13, 2023 / 11:13 am

    The whole sector needs to look again at paid governance. People who are diverse are almost universally disadvantaged in their diversity, yet Boards expect them to take a place of equality next to people who have more support, more options, more financial power than them. It’s also obscene to ask financially precarious people to work for free when they add huge value to the organisation and allow it to access more funding as well as deliver more effectively and efficiently. Boards should also recognise that endlessly requiring people to fill in forms in return for money like expenses can feel shaming to those of us who have had to use the benefits system. If Boards are serious about doing things differently then they need to really look root and branch at the whole issue of patronised servitude that lingers in how we view the volunteer sector and their beneficiaries, and accept floating, professionally disinterested governance is not the path to change and instead has been part of producing the problem of privileged, white Boards

    • Alex Fox OBE March 17, 2023 / 5:29 pm

      Appreciate these thoughts Eve – I’ve tended to view unpaid governance positively, but you have got me re-thinking the privilege in that.

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