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Should we pay trustees?

Updated: Apr 5, 2022

I have now worked with a large number of charities and my concerns about the charity governance structure have grown. I know what I will be about to say will be controversial to some, but I am sharing my thoughts as I would genuinely like to hear other people’s views on this…

I think we should pay trustees

Let me share my reasons for this suggestion. I am not being critical of all current trustees. I have worked with many intelligent, experienced, dedicated and passionate trustees who are invaluable to the charity sector; I have also been a trustee myself. Most trustees are amazing, but as a group, we have to ask, are they always giving us the range of ideas and detailed scrutiny we need?

I am concerned that as trustees are voluntary and unpaid this means that certain groups of people are more likely to become a trustee – generally older, white, and financially better off individuals. This means we don’t always get the best range of candidates for trustee boards, which means that the diversity of experiences to challenge our existing thinking and present alternative perspectives aren’t always present. Particularly when most charities are focused on beneficiaries that are a completely different group of people. If you are supporting people navigating the benefits system would it not be helpful to have at least someone on your trustee board who has personal experience of this?

I know from my experience that making a useful contribution to the trustee board requires a lot of time - spending time with staff and volunteers to understand the organisation, reading papers, attending events and meetings. This is a huge commitment to make, which means that many people who can’t afford to reduce their working hours to make this commitment won’t put themselves forward to be a trustee which I think this is a loss to us all.

I’ve also identified another issue with some trustees who become a trustee with the main purpose of boosting their personal image. Some of these individuals do not take the time to understand and contribute to the organisation. As these are voluntary roles some organisations are then reluctant to address this lack of engagement which could be taken by someone who genuinely wants to contribute but can’t afford to.

I realise finding the money for this (especially in the current financial climate) is another issue – but if we could pay trustees could this provide us with a more robust governance where we can expect commitment and have a more diverse range of voices increasing the likelihood that our charities are heading in the right direction?

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