Twenty things we learned from our National Trustee Survey

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Twenty things we learned from our National Trustee Survey

We carried out our National Trustee Survey in September 2016 year working with Third Sector magazine and the Charity Futures programme. Find out what we learned.
Joe Saxton

We carried out our national trustee survey in September this year working with Third Sector magazine and the Charity Futures programme. We got nearly 550 responses and some preliminary results were published last month. Here are twenty nuggets of information we gleaned from the survey.

Who are trustees?

1. Trustees tend to be older than the population as a whole. While in the UK as a whole 35% are over 55, in our survey 55% were over 55

2. Trustees are more likely to be self-employed than the population as a whole – 17% vs 5%

3. Trustees are more white than the UK as a whole – 94% are white compared to 86% for the population as a whole

4. Trustees are more likely to have children but not living at home – 38% vs 26% for the population as a whole, though this is partly a function of the age of trustees.

Skills and involvement in trustee role

5. 60% of respondents were trustees for just one organisation, where 35% were trustees for 2 or 3, and the rest more than that

6. 50% of our sample had been a trustee for 3 years or less of the organisation where they are currently a trustee, while 11% had been a trustee for more than a decade

7. 43% of trustees spend 1-2 days a month on their trustee role, with an average of 2.8 days a month overall, and Chairs spending around 4 days a month

8. Around a quarter (23%) of our sample were also on a company board, and 46% were on no other kind of board.

9. ‘Management/organisational development’ was cited as the main skill they contributed to the board by 44% of respondents, with ‘strategy/evaluation’ (27%) and ‘knowledge of the cause’ (24%) the next two highest on the list.

10. 35% of trustees were asked by a friend or colleague to be a trustee, with 17% responding to an ad.

11. 43% said it had become harder in the last two years to recruit trustees

Support for trustees

12. Support and training for trustee still seems to be fairly ad-hoc. The biggest source of training for trustees was meeting staff and volunteers (71%) and seeing the work (60%).

13. The biggest source of support for trustees was people’s personal networks (66%) followed by the Charity Commission at 62%.

14. Over 90% of trustees were aware of the Charity Commission’s guidance and over 80% of those thought it was quite valuable or very valuable.

Workings of the board

15. Most trustees are pretty happy with the way their trustee board work: 92% agree their board is clear about the purpose of the organisation and 89% agree that their board manages risks to the organisation. There was strong agreement with many other statements about effective board working.

16. The biggest negative statements came when trustees were asked if they had considered stepping down because of the pressure (27% said yes) and if they thought the pressure was too much (22% said yes)

Crisis and serious issues

17. Perhaps the biggest surprise came in response to a question about whether trustees had experienced things going wrong. Just 54% said they had no experience of this, while 17% said they had experienced serious issues in service provision, 16% in trustees acting in their self-interest, and 16% had experienced issues to do with bullying. Sobering results. The good news is that nearly 80% said they had resolved these issues.

Improving trusteeship and governance

18. 44% of trustees agreed the level of training and support for trustees was sufficient (while 26% disagreed)

19. Equally less than 10% agreed that trustees needed ‘to step up and do more to protect the sector’, or that better governance would have prevented some of the negative media stories in recent years.

20. Despite this there is a strong appetite for better training for trustees, chairs & honorary officers, online training and a proper trustee handbook – all of which of which were thought to be useful by over 70% of respondents. Conversely just 17% of trustees agreed paying trustees would improve governance, and 12% agreed that reducing the size of the board would help.

All the charts are available from our website to download for free. Anybody who wants the data tables or has questions please email me on

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