Board skills audit: building an effective trustee board

1) Take a broad view of ‘relevant skills’

It can be easy to focus in on practical skills first: who will look after the finances? who will review policies? Practical skills are essential but don’t neglect the ‘soft’ skills.

The Educator

A board is just like any other team or group: it has the capacity to grow and improve but is unlikely to do so without some intentional skills development. Some people are great at pushing forward a board and keeping it learning.

The People Person

Directors and trustees often have to make hard decisions and manage change, both inside the board and within the organisation they govern. This needs people of diplomacy, tact and compassion.

The Enthusiast

It can sound naive, but the drive and energy that comes from genuine enthusiasm can be a powerful force when harnessed by a well balanced board. This can often be an argument for youth and new faces, but not necessarily so.

The Politician

Most organisations can benefit from partnerships and external input. It is therefore important to have people on the board who know how to network, manage external relationships and advocate.

The Strategist

Boards should be active in shaping the future direction of their organisation. For this reason, they need people who anticipate future challenges and generate vision.

The Analyst

A major part of trustees’ legal responsibility is to keep a charity accountable to its objects and best practice. This requires board members to spot problems quickly and understand an operational context they are not part of on a day-to-day basis.

2) Keep it practical

Things need to get done, and this requires practical skills. Here are the key areas to cover:

Finance

Who will scrutinise the annual accounts? Who will keep an eye on cash flow and income generation?

Legal

In broad terms there are two key legal areas to cover:

  • Employment / HR – employee handbooks, redundancy, employment contracts, etc.
  • Charity / company law – compliance with charity and company regulations, articles of associations, the restrictions on what a charity can do, etc.

Sector knowledge

Sector knowledge is rarely a prerequisite for all board members because a more external view is often helpful. However, strong sector knowledge to support the executive management team can be valuable.

IT

No organisation can be on the top of its game without making the most of technology. Technical skills are not always needed for the high level input given by the board but understanding and experience of the deployment and maintenance of effective IT systems is a big plus.

Communications

Well run charities communicate well with their stakeholders, clients and beneficiaries. However, forming and implementing an integrated communication strategy is not straightforward. There are lots of red herrings out there and you need someone to both hold communications activity to account against strategic objectives and have imagination about new directions and approaches.

3) The skills audit

Building a board with a good range of the skills discussed above is easier said than done! Use the form below to assess the current board and highlight priorities for recruitment. It’s a google doc which you can copy from this open document.