Comment

Big society, needs big ideas and the right people at the helm

While not for profit organisations are being encouraged to deliver more public services, many don't have the knowhow to cope with the new demands - could recruiting more diverse trustees be the answer?

The new coalition government has pledged to place the civil society sector at the heart of its 'Big Society' programme.

Part of its aim, as it devolves power to people, is for not for profit organisations to work more closely with the state and compete with public sector organisations to deliver a greater number of public services.

These are ambitious plans for a sector that is famously under resourced. Some charity leaders have expressed doubts already about the ability of smaller charities to cope with such pressures, questioning if they have the knowhow and resources available to adopt such a role.

There is little doubt the sector is facing an unprecedented level of change and uncertainty and many organisations are suffering still from the impact of the recession and feel threatened by the planned public sector cuts.

In this climate, strong governance and leadership is essential. Recent research from both PricewaterhouseCoopers and interim management provider, Russam GMS highlighted that better financial management and governance is now a top priority for charities and considered vital to get them through these difficult times.

Now is the time for organisations of all sizes to strengthen their boards to ensure they are led by the people who will ensure they have a sustainable future.

A diverse range of trustees

The best boards will include a diverse range of trustees – people from different industry and functional backgrounds with a range of skills, talent, knowledge and experience, which will ensure they make the best decisions about the future of the organisation.

But finding such individuals has been a long standing challenge for the sector, and consequently, there has been an over reliance on personal networks in the past, resulting in boards recruiting in their own likeness.

Some organisations have however, recently tackled this problem by investing in a trustee recruitment service, like Trustees Unlimited, to enable them to tap into a wider pool of potential trustees, ensure trustees are rigorously vetted and that their skills are assessed.

Christian Aid recently enlisted our help to find a new financial expert to join its trustee board. It needed a qualified accountant with strong risk management skills on its board and the tough economic climate, coupled with its desire to expand internationally had highlighted this skills gap.

The organisation had tried several channels to find such a trustee; including using its own network of individuals, but none had produced the right person.

Through Trustees Unlimited, it appointed Tom Hinton, the financial controller of British Gas who as well as being a Christian, is just 30 years old.

Christian Aid sees Tom as a 'breath of fresh air' and hopes that his dynamic approach and strong commercial experience will strengthen its financial and risk management capabilities.

The recruitment service is not just aimed at larger organisations with bigger budgets.

Community Options is a small London-based charity that provides services and accommodation for people with mental health needs. Through us, it recently appointed John Schuster, a marketing expert to its trustee board to raise the organisation's profile and brand and to input into its five year strategic plan.

John has a 20-year track record of delivering marketing campaigns to financial services companies and Community Options is now confident it has the right level of marketing expertise on its board to build its profile successfully.

For too long charities have struggled to recruit the best talent to their boards, and with such uncertainty and change in the sector, this problem can no longer be overlooked. There are plenty of talented people in the market who want to serve as trustees and we are providing a cost-effective recruitment service that will bring trustee/non executive talent into small and large third civil society organisations.

In time, we hope this will help to improve the governance across the whole sector.

Ian Joseph is a board member of Trustees Unlimited

Society Professionals

  • Welcome to Society Professionals, a place for public-service experts to share news, views, ideas and innovation. Because the bigger the picture, the bigger the potential

Visit our society networks

About Guardian Professional

  • Guardian Professional Networks are community-focused sites, where we bring together advice, best practice and insight from a wide range of professional communities. Click here for details of all our networks. Some of our specialist hubs within these sites are supported by funding from external companies and organisations. All editorial content is independent of any sponsorship, unless otherwise clearly stated. We make Partner Zones available for sponsors' own content. Guardian Professional is a division of Guardian News & Media.

Today in pictures

  • sports peronality 2012

    BBC Sports Personality of the Year – in pictures

    Bradley Wiggins capped his remarkable sporting year by taking home the big prize at the ceremony in London
  • Martin Parr's M Video Christmas party photograph

    Dinner, dusk and dancing Russians: my best winter shot

    A glass of wine with a rough sleeper, Santa in trunks, a thousand partying Muscovites … in a My Best Shot special, top photographers pick the image that sums up winter for them
  • Kimon, a long-tailed monkey grooms a kitten, whom, she treats as her baby, Bintan Island, Indonesia

    Monkey adopts kitten – in pictures

    Kimon, an eight-year-old pet female long-tailed monkey, treats a kitten as her baby in Bintan Island, Indonesia
;