How Do We Conduct a Skills Audit of Our Board and What Skills Does a Strong Heritage Board Need?

What is this resource for?

This resource aims to provide a model for heritage sector organisations on how to audit their boards, identify what skills are present and to what level, and develop actions from the findings. It also outlines skills a heritage board needs to govern well.

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?

  • It is important to consider what skills are needed for your organisation to excel when planning your audit. Some will be specific. More traditional skills such as IT, Finance and Communications are vital for good governance
  • For best practice, skill audits should be a part of your board recruitment process
  • Keep the format of your audit simple. A table or checklist works well
  • While audit results aren’t sensitive data, it is important to collect, process, and store findings securely

What are important skills for a board to feature?

Heritage organisations vary widely in their purpose and remit, so there will always be variation in the specific skills required of a board. However, some skills are vital to effective governance:

  • Finance
  • HR and people management
  • Legal
  • Development and fundraising
  • Business and commercial planning
  • Governance
  • Engagement – local and national reach
  • Marketing and Communications
  • Volunteer management
  • Health and Safety
  • IT

Additionally, a board should look for specific skills it knows its organisation needs to succeed. These vary and could be based upon:

  • Whether the board is responsible for a specific heritage asset and the nature of this asset
  • Whether the board is responsible for a collection
  • Whether the organisation is a trust, a charitable incorporated organisation, an unincorporated organisation, or a charitable company (a company limited by guarantee)
  • Whether the organisation has visitors, welcomes the public on-site, or is a tourist attraction
  • Whether the organisation has a specific focus requiring specialist knowledge, such as specialised conservation or scientific research

How do we develop a board skills audit?

For best practice, you should embed a skills audit into your cycle of board recruitment. Some organisations have this in their governing document, whilst others do not have set procedure details. Read our guidance on good practice in term lengths and succession planning.

If you do not already have an audit plan in place, it is important to find a strong advocate for it at board level who can bring it to a board meeting for approval. This advocate could share evidence with the board for the importance of such work, such as our commissioned research from Getting on Board, and present a proposed plan for any actions to be taken as a result, such as targeted recruitment and skills training. Sharing success stories from other heritage boards will also be important.

Once approved, the board should appoint someone responsible for running the audit and developing a strategy after. This person is usually a staff member or volunteer of the organisation rather than a board member. They should develop their format, communicate it to the board, gather the findings, and prepare a report for action by the board.

An anonymous reporting tool such as a survey is the best way to gather data on board skill level. The data gathered on board skill level is not classed as 'special category', but it is still good GDPR practice to collect and store it with care and due security.

Collecting this data should fall under 'legitimate interest' as long as it is collected, processed, and stored correctly and only for the purposes of the skills audit. Collecting data via an anonymous reporting tool ensures board members can be confident that their data is being captured and used correctly. There will need to be a declaration on the survey stating why the data is being collected and what it will be used for. The platform will likely depend on your organisation's existing IT package – you could use Microsoft Forms, Google Forms, or SurveyMonkey, all of which have specific privacy policies and information on how they collect data.

What is a good format for our board skills audit?

Depending on the platform you are using to collect the data, it is good practice to provide a simple table or a simple checklist-style survey.

All skills should be listed, along with examples, to provide clarity and add specific relevant information for your organisation. The board members should also be able to add any additional relevant skills they feel are relevant.

All skills should have a scoring system – high, medium, or low – with clear examples of what these categories mean. This gives an organisation not only an idea of skills present, but also whether any development or training could be put in place to increase skill level without having to recruit new Board members. Ensure that these skill level categories encompass a range of career paths and potential backgrounds so they are inclusive.

The following is only an example but shows the type of data to be captured and how to quantify what you mean by levels of experience.

  High level of experience in professional setting (5 years+) or relevant higher level qualifications or published on this area or significant examples of demonstrable  experience and knowledgeGood level of experience in a professional setting (3 to 5 years) or relevant mid level qualification  or some examples of demonstrable  experience and knowledge

Early career level of experience in a professional setting (<3 years) or relevant beginner level qualifications or few examples of demonstrable  experience and knowledge

LegalCharity law; contract law; planning regulations; land law   
EngagementEducation (various stages); professional networking; community engagement; conference speaking; partnership development; relationship management; local and national government level advocacy   
Other skills (please describe)