A multi-generational group and a dog posing next to a stone pillar in a park.
Heritage At Risk 2022. Elmley Castle Village Cross, Netherton Lane/Pershore Road, Elmley Castle, Worcestershire. Portrait of fundraising team for restoration of the village cross. © Historic England Archive. DP348188.
Heritage At Risk 2022. Elmley Castle Village Cross, Netherton Lane/Pershore Road, Elmley Castle, Worcestershire. Portrait of fundraising team for restoration of the village cross. © Historic England Archive. DP348188.

What Kind of Experience and Skills Could I Build as a Heritage Board Member and How Could This Impact My Career Path?

What is this resource for?

This resource aims to identify the skills and experience potential members of heritage boards could develop. It is aimed at people who are considering applying to be a trustee or board member.

It is also useful to heritage organisations with existing boards thinking about how they attract, recruit, and retain board candidates.

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?

  • Board membership offers an array of challenging and rewarding experiences that can boost your career trajectory
  • When considering joining a board, think about the skills you have and what you would like to learn in a governance setting
  • Board responsibilities can appear overwhelming to prospective members. However, with proper onboarding, board roles are great for skill-building and self-confidence
  • Sitting on a board can impart a range of transferrable skills such as leadership, strategy, and advocacy. When applying for future roles, these qualities are held in high regard

What skills can I build as a board member?

Board members have a wide range of skills, some that they bring to the board, and others that they develop or strengthen during their tenure.

When considering becoming a board member, you might want to consider skills you already have that you want to expand upon in a governance setting. Also, think about the skills you would like to learn by getting involved in the board's work and potentially shadowing other board members who have specific responsibilities or roles.

It is important to remember that the board's work is governance, not management. You will be feeding into leadership decisions and advising staff or volunteers, but you will not be directly managing areas of the organisation. The skills developed as a board member are high-level and top-down.

Common skills of Board members include:


This usually relates to charity finance, a specialist field that most board members do not have specific knowledge of before joining and which they develop during their tenure. Training resources are available through the Charity Commission, and training and information should be offered on this topic as part of a trustee's onboarding.

However, some organisations may have commercial arms, be CIOs (charitable incorporated organisations), or be charitable companies (limited by degree), which would also have commercial finances to govern. Board members have to understand their organisation's accounts in order to make informed decisions and manage risk.

Skills in financial modelling, accountancy, investments, auditing, and risk management are highly valuable in this area. Potential trustees could develop these skills with the board's treasurer, finance committee, or equivalent body.

Human Resources and people management

HR experience is a very welcome skill for board members of organisations that employ staff. Heritage sector organisations face a variety of challenges, including unusual workplaces, seasonal or periodic work patterns, highly specialised skills requirements, skills shortages, and specialist PPE requirements. Board members will be called upon to develop pay offers for staff, review and implement HR policies, and approve requests for finance to recruit additional staff.

Highly valuable skills in this area include line managing, recruitment, staff appraisal, trade union relationship management, pay negotiation, and an understanding of finance. Potential trustees could work with the board's staff committee, remuneration committee, HR responsible officer, or equivalent group to develop these skills.


In heritage organisations, there are many potential legal and legislative areas that board members should be aware of. Though specific legal advice will be taken by organisations as the need arises, a working knowledge of legal processes is extremely valuable. Some organisations may recruit 1 or more trustees with a relevant legal background if a significant portion of their work requires regular advice or if they have a particularly complex asset, such as a historic building with a number of caveats and limitations as to its use.

Understanding contract law and equalities legislation, as well as experience with listed building consents, the planning system, competition law, and employment law, are all highly valuable skills in this area. Potential trustees could develop their skills by shadowing board members with legal experience, attending meetings with legal advisors, and getting involved with strategy and planning that involves legal advice.


Fundraising experience is important to organisations, even those with a dedicated officer or team on their staff, as new connections and methods are always welcome to diversify funding and strengthen finances. In the heritage sector, there are several established modes of fundraising, but with pressure on grants and funding schemes, new mechanisms and different approaches are increasingly valuable.

Within this area, skills in grant application, trust and foundation fundraising, crowdfunding, gift aid administration, gambling regulations (for raffles and prize draws), and corporate fundraising are highly valuable. Potential trustees could develop their skills by joining fundraising committees, shadowing fundraising staff, and attending fundraising training and development.

Business or commercial planning

Several organisations, even charities, have a commercial arm or are charitable businesses, and they need board members who can govern their business planning and development. Maximising a company's profits can mean more funds available for the main charitable aims, more audiences reached, or more resources available for developing new work.

People with commercial, retail, or corporate backgrounds may not immediately consider heritage organisations when looking for board opportunities. However, skills from these professions are very sought after, as commercial arms of heritage organisations can be very successful if they identify their target markets and develop their range of products and services accordingly. This can include physical retail, food and drink, event spaces, or training and development.

Within this area, commercial planning, retail offer development, wholesale sourcing, business connections, retail strategy development, merchandising, food and drink offer development, events management, corporate training, audience segmentation and development, and financial forecasting skills are all highly valuable. Potential board members could join commercial boards and retail committees or shadow the commercial staff and volunteer team to develop their skills in this area.

Specialist conservation skills and knowledge

The conservation of collections, archives, sites, buildings, and landscapes is an important core function for many heritage organisations.

Within this area, skills in conservation across the heritage sector, as well as experience managing heritage assets and collections, are highly valuable. Experience in research and development of conservation methods and solutions, including interpretation methods and conservation technologies, is also highly valuable. Potential trustees could join working committees or shadow staff and volunteers responsible for this work to develop their skills.

Specialist heritage knowledge

An organisation focusing on a specific time period, heritage type, or historic site would benefit from board members with existing knowledge and expertise. Early career heritage professionals can be very helpful in providing new insights, adding to the knowledge base of boards, and sharing new practices or research.

Potential trustees who are research students in a related area (undergraduate or postgraduate), people with a specific passion or interest, and people with experience working or volunteering at similar places are highly valuable. Such trustees could benefit from the existing knowledge and experience of the board and the organisation's staff and volunteers, developing their specific knowledge from different perspectives.


Heritage organisations have identified that engaging with new or more diverse audiences is a significant challenge and a vital one to tackle to ensure organisations are sustainable. Engagement can take many forms depending upon the organisation and could be a core charitable aim or a supplementary activity. It can range from events and programming to school resources, corporate and commercial advocacy, and public information via partner organisations. In some cases, it may involve tangible assets such as a historic building or a collection of objects; in others, it may work with more intangible concepts such as a specific art form or an oral history of a place. Experience in many types of engagement, including those parallel to and outside of heritage, is very important.

Within this area, skills in audience segmentation and development, youth engagement, partnership working, community engagement, community development, school programming, programme development, government and administrative level advocacy, and public speaking are all highly valuable. Potential trustees could develop their skills by shadowing engagement teams, working on strategic planning, or shadowing the education and volunteering teams.

Marketing and communications

Although a board member will not be involved in the operational side of marketing and communications, having someone with a background in this area is very helpful for a board to gain a stronger understanding of how to develop their organisation's presence and reach audiences, visitors, or clients.

This can feed into business plans or strategic planning, help advise funding levels for this kind of work, and help the board understand the value of marketing and communications. Board members often also have opportunities to advocate for their organisation directly, including over social media platforms, at events, or in their own professional circles, all of which are a vital part of communications planning.

Within this area, skills in developing communications plans, social media strategies, advertising experience, professional networking, press releases and media training are all highly valuable. Potential trustees could shadow the marketing staff team or volunteers, work on developing communications or social media strategies, and help develop board communication guidelines to develop their skills.

Volunteering and volunteer management

Many organisations across the heritage sector have a cohort of volunteers doing vital work. In some cases, organisations are entirely community and volunteer-led.

Volunteer management is a significantly different skill than managing paid employees, and experience in working with and leading volunteers is a very important quality for a board member. Heritage organisations have volunteers working in diverse roles, and having a board that can understand their needs, anticipate issues, and provide inclusive opportunities is vital.

Within this area, skills in volunteer management, safeguarding, workplace policy development, health and safety, volunteering experience, and volunteer development and training are all highly valuable. Potential trustees could develop their skills by getting involved in the work of any volunteering committee or volunteer liaison or sitting in on volunteer development meetings and catchups.

What experiences can I expect as a board member?

Several unique features of being a board member provide experience in challenging but rewarding situations, which are excellent for boosting skills and increasing self-confidence and self-value.

The following experiences may be part of the experience of a heritage board member:

  • Board meetings, usually 4 to 6 times a year, plus AGMs
  • Committees for specific areas of governance, such as Finance and HR
  • Leadership – as Chair, or Chair of a committee
  • Holding space for challenging conversations
  • Risk management for an entire organisation
  • High level decision making
  • Strategic planning
  • Representing and advocating for the organisation at events and functions

Although some of these may seem daunting to a first-time trustee, a good organisation will have a thorough onboarding process to demystify these areas and debunk some common misconceptions. Read our advice for heritage organisations on how to do this.

How could my board experience impact my career?

Board experience is highly regarded by potential employers as it demonstrates a commitment to working with an organisation for altruistic reasons based on skill, passion, and professional interests. Within the heritage sector, there are organisations of all scales and sizes that deal with everything from specific local heritage sites to nationwide charitable programmes, all of which contribute enormously to England’s historic environment and how it is preserved, interpreted, and shared with people. Being a leader within this vital aspect of heritage demonstrates a strong commitment to the sector.

Boosting your skills and experience in a role that is related but not directly associated with your paid work or studies can enrich your knowledge and give you an edge when it comes to ideas and strategies. It can help develop your approach to your own and wider organisation’s work as you bring in experience and perspectives from sitting as a board member.

It can also help you explore different organisations and types of work within your profession or even find rewarding career paths away from your current one. Board work can help you explore the possibilities of transferring your skills to different kinds of roles and give you the confidence to make this move.

Sitting on a board can help you make the move to a leadership-focused career path, as it develops some highly valuable experience required for leadership, as well as demonstrating your abilities to govern with balance. It also opens up networks of leaders within the sector. However, if you don’t want to move into a leadership role, it can still have a significant impact on your career in different roles. It can help you with your approach to discussions and meetings, with your approach to advocacy for yourself and your ideas, and to have a deeper understanding of your organisation’s finances, strategy, and other operational details.