An audience watching a film in a wood-panelled hall with blue lighting and a large screen displaying a movie scene.
Hidden Cinema. The Chapel, Oxford House, Bethnal Green Road, Tower Hamlets, Greater London. © Historic England Archive. DP150912.
Hidden Cinema. The Chapel, Oxford House, Bethnal Green Road, Tower Hamlets, Greater London. © Historic England Archive. DP150912.

What Kinds of Benefits Should We Be Offering Board Members, and How Do We Communicate These to Potential Board Members?

What is this resource for?

Our research shows that heritage boards struggle with recruiting diverse trustees. This resource is designed to give you guidance on how to communicate the benefits of being on a heritage board to potential trustees.

This advice was produced on behalf of Historic England by Getting on Board.

This resource forms part of a wider strand of work around heritage board diversity. For other resources in this series, see the 'Inclusive governance boards and diverse trustees' section of the Inclusive Heritage Advice Hub.

What are the key points?

  • The benefits of being a trustee may not be obvious and should be carefully considered when advertising an opportunity
  • The stories of current board members are some of the most compelling ways to encourage potential trustees to apply
  • Benefits are defined in different ways for different people, so there should be a flexible approach to individual applicants
  • Potential board members may have many misconceptions which act as barriers that the current board must work to dispel

What are some of the key benefits new trustees can expect?

New trustees can bring their diverse perspectives to reveal potential gaps in decision-making. They will help to change the status quo and contribute to richer stories. Trusteeship is, for the most part, an unpaid voluntary role. To better showcase a wider and more diverse view of heritage and attract candidates to join your board, you will need to consider potential barriers to them joining and different ways to attract them.

To inspire future trustees, share board members' stories of their passion for the sector and how they have been able to use their influence. Use these as inspiration for future trustees. Share stories of people who have followed 'non-linear' pathways to join the boards of heritage sector organisations to inspire the confidence to apply.

There are multiple benefits of heritage boards that you can articulate to potential board members, including:

  • An increased pride of place or pride in a specific type of heritage
  • The opportunity to learn new professional skills such as fundraising, marketing, finance and human resources
  • The opportunity to learn new 'soft' skills such as decision-making, risk awareness and negotiation
  • Experience in the charity sector
  • Understanding of the challenges others face
  • Improved wellbeing by making a difference to causes that matter to them
  • Give to charity, non-financially

It is a myth that diverse candidates don't want to join boards. Be aware that some people may not know there is an opportunity to join your board; they might have a fixed view of heritage or perceptions of your current board, or there may be other practicalities that are putting people off from applying.

What sort of misconceptions may potential Board members have, and what kind of barriers might they face?

Based on anecdotal feedback to Getting on Board, here are a few reasons that prevent people from applying to join boards:

  • "I don't know what a trustee is"
  • "I've never seen any adverts for trustee positions"
  • "People like me don't become trustees"
  • "I don't know how to apply"
  • "I don't see myself reflected in what they're asking for in the advert"

It's up to you to convey benefits that will attract people from diverse backgrounds to join your board. You'll need to invest time and resources in this step. Before you start, consider how you will make new board members feel welcomed and included, particularly if they are an 'only' (meaning the only person on the board holding a particular characteristic). Nobody wants to be a token appointment; we recommend that you recruit at least 2 individuals with a particular characteristic at a time.

Think about how you will remove potential barriers. Review your expenses policy to make it easy and discreet to claim out-of-pocket expenses such as travel, accommodation, and childcare.

In England and Wales, for inclusion purposes (if your governing document allows you to and is suitable), you can additionally pay trustees for their time spent as trustees where this would otherwise be a barrier to their participation.

Be prepared to get some things wrong despite your best efforts. Maybe you already have. Don't let it deter you. The more honest and open you are about your efforts to diversify your board, the more respect and understanding you will earn from the communities you serve, particularly when you respond swiftly and sincerely.

As interviewees in the Historic England focus groups for the 'Barriers and Enablers to Board Diversity in the Heritage Sector' report advised: "Don't let perfect be the enemy of good", and if you have not been successful in recruiting diversely, don't give up. Instead, "reflect on the process and learn – think about what else could be done next time."