Trustee Vacancies - Top 6 Recruitment Tips

Why do so many voluntary committees/boards have difficulties filling their vacancies?

Read our Top 6 recruitment tips to help you recruit to fill your vacant board positions.....


Trustee vacancies - top 6 recruitment tips

The Trustee Vacancy Dilemma

Why do so many voluntary committees/boards have difficulties filling their vacancies?  Achieving the optimum number of board/committee members is only the start.  They can also have difficulties finding applicants with the right skills mix amd who can help improve age/gender/diversity balance.  We offer our Top 6 tips to help you recruit to fill those positions.

From the applicant's position, they often face challenges discovering where these vacancies are advertised (if they are at all).  Then there is the time it takes to apply for the role and go through interviews or assessments before beingoffered the role.  Of course some voluntary organisations are so short of board members that they set their sights lower and try to make the role fit the individual, rather than the other way around. 

So why is there often such a gap between those organisations seeking new voluntary members and those who want to fill them?  And what should voluntary organisations do to close this gap, bearing in mind their limited resources?

In one of our future articles, "Voluntary management committees – is corporate governance alive and well?" we reveal survey findings that show 43% of voluntary committee members received no training whatsoever to help them fulfil their role.  However, this training gap is after filling the vacancy and will be the topic for future blogs.

The Trustee Vacancy Statistics

In 2009/10 there were approximately 834,000 trustee board positions within UK voluntary organisations.  In 2010, roughly 15% of about 170,000 UK registered charities had a shortage of board members – so the maths tells us the figure is anywhere upwards of 30,000 board vacancies.  (Source: UK Civil Society Almanac). 

While up to date accurate figures are hard to find, the number of vacancies today has very likely increased since then.  In fact, if you include school governing bodies, credit unions, sports clubs and other social enterprises, vacancies for voluntary committee roles are even greater.

The Trustee Vacancy Reasons

So, what are the reasons for so many vacant voluntary committee positions? 

  • Some organisations do not actively recruit for board/committee vacancies because they see it as a hassle and think they can ‘make do’ with what they have already or the existing board members do not want to change

  • The advertisements have limited reach so they do not appear in the relevant media channels that potential board members are engaging with or reading

  • The recruitment process is imperfect and suitable applicants are not identified, or worse they are correctly identified and choose to decline the role when offered it

  • The role is almost exclusively unpaid and let’s face it, not everybody wants to work for free

  • The ‘right’ individuals are already very busy and feel they cannot spare the time to take on another role

  • Potential board members fear the associated risks after reading about some high profile cases in the media where trustees have been adversely in the public spotlight

There are many more reasons that positions remain vacant.  However, if the organisation is serious about filling the committee/board vacancies then it is better to focus on how to address this challenge in a structured way.

The Trustee Vacancy Solution - Top 6 Tips

  1. Start at the beginning – what vacancies actually exist and what skills, experience and other qualities are needed to fill them?  A written job description, after undertaking a board skills assessment helps focus on the profile of committee/board member that the organisation needs.
  2. Check your rules - refer to recruitment and appointment rules in your organisation’s governing document, policies and procedures and any regulatory body guidance such as those offered by the Charity Commission.
  3. Use available free resources – make use of your website, Twitter, LinkedIn, newsletters, staff contacts, networking events etc. to advertise your vacancies as widely as possible. The Small Charities Coalition has produced a very useful list of organisations that offer free (and paid) support and guidance including advertising vacant positions.
  4. Decide if you want to recruit directly or use a recruitment agency.  Cost of course can be an issue but if you have the resources and you want to attract the best, then external recruitment can work.  Also, while some third sector organisations offer recruitment services, you should check private sector organisations too as they could have a pool of great candidates with the right skills mix on their books. 
  5. Make sure that you run a professional recruitment process – appoint a suitable, experienced interviewing panel; ask appropriate questions and utilise other techniques to match the applicants to your written job description (focus on those with a passion for your cause); sell your organisation positively and accurately; follow up with all applicants on a timely basis; don’t appoint for the sake of filling a position (or after a ‘coffee chat’).  And always advise every candidate of the outcome.
  6. Offer a focused induction (and ongoing) training programme – not only does this ‘sell’ your organisation to candidates, it also helps to retain your committee member skills and reduce your volunteer turnover levels.  Note: Please contact us for details of our training services for voluntary board/committee members.

Assess your corporate governance online

Successful board/committee member recruitment is only one step on the journey towards an effective voluntary board.  Organisations can reach their goal faster by adopting a more ‘holistic’ approach to their corporate governance arrangements.  Start at the beginning with a more structured approach to assess and improve your organisation’s overall governance arrangements.

Check out our innovative online governance self-assessment tool that creates a report and practical action plan for your organisation.  Prospective trustees will always take comfort knowing that they are joining an organisation that can demonstrate it is well governed.

Read our recent blog about how important it is to complete regular corporate governance reviews.

Our Free Preview allows you to check out (with no payment necessary) two full sections of the corporate governance self-assessment tool so you can see how it can help to improve the effectiveness of your governance arrangements.


If you would like more information on any of our governance services, contact us on


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