Charity governance is stuck in the past, finds leadership review

While management in the charity sector has changed significantly in the past few decades, a reluctance to invest in governance has led to a stagnation of board structure and a lack of diversity, according to Dame Mary Marsh’s review of skills and leadership in the social sector.

Despite a plethora of resources to encourage better governance and the publication of the Code of Good Governance, supported by many of the sector’s umbrella bodies, charities themselves are not investing in their boards, Leading Social, the review report published today on a new blog site, warns:

“The key problem is that many organisations in the sector are unwilling to invest in a significant way in their boards, whether that be recruiting new and more diverse trustees, training/inducting trustees, carrying out board performance reviews or individual appraisals.

“As a result of this, tools/support in this area are often free, or relatively inexpensive, and sometimes limited as a result. Demand for support ‘upskilling’ or recruiting to boards is relatively weak, and supply reflects that. There are examples of brilliance, including using agencies in trustee recruitment, but the funds to roll it out across the sector rarely exist,” the report advises.

Charities should be ‘nudged’ into investing more in their governance and into using the resources already available to them, the report says.

In order to do so the review recommends an ‘Investors in Governance’ kitemark that would function as an indicator of best practice to funders and auditors. Further, it says funders should be encouraged to consider building complementary support to improve governance in their funding packages.

A change in law to allow trustees of charities the same rights as school governors or magistrates to reasonable time out of work to undertake their trustee duties could also be undertaken, the review advises.

‘Too white and too middle-class’

Marsh led a working group of representatives from across the sector for six months to produce the review, after her appointment to the task by minister for civil society Nick Hurd last year.

The resulting report highlights eight main issues in social sector leadership ranging from a lack of enterprise to missed opportunities for collaboration. But one of the key issues highlighted was the inward-looking approach to recruitment both on boards and as staff.

While the review itself concentrates predominantly on the barriers to young people, Dame Mary Marsh, founder of the Clore Social Leadership Programme, told the Independent that there are “too many white, middle-class people going into charities because they know their way around the system”.

The working group, which itself is comprised of 11 white males and three white females, found that getting a foot in the door “can be tremendously hard”. Only a passing mention of ethnicity is made in the report itself, regarding reluctance within the sector to target specific demographic groups in recruitment, however speaking with the national newspaper Marsh said:

“We are missing the talent that we should have. Look at the BME [black and minority ethnic] profile of the sector – it’s appalling. We have very, very few people from a diverse range of ethnic backgrounds in our senior leadership. And I’m sure all these things are reflected throughout the charity.”

More is made in the official report of a lack of apprenticeships, clear entry points for prospective managers and a preference for “experience over attitude” which is preventing young recruits. This latter barrier, the report says, is getting worse with an increased emphasis on project and contract funding which is “increasing a tendency for employers to look to bring in short-term experienced project managers”, rather than investing in developing skills over a longer term.

To create a fertile ground in which to develop a career in the sector, the report recommends implementing an equivalent of the Teach First graduate development programme in the sector; collaboration between employers on training and mentoring, and increasing the number of apprenticeships and traineeships for 16 to 19-year-olds.

The full set of recommendations in the Leading Social review can be found by clicking here.

Skills Third Sector will manage the site, which aims to facilitate further knowledge sharing, going forward.

 The working group comprised:

 Dame Mary Marsh (chair)

 Ralph Michell

 Pamela Ball

 Cliff Prior

 Keith Mogford

 Rachel Whale

 Bill Freeman

 Richard Tyrie

 Alex Swallow

 Karl Wilding

 Stephen Hammersley

 Steven Leach

 Gareth Matthews

 Andrew Barnett

This article was taken from Civil Society – http://www.civilsociety.co.uk/governance/news/content/15168/