Several people of different ages, genders and backgrounds around a table in an office meeting room
Diverse boards help to build sustainability and resilience through informed decision-making. © Historic England Archive. DP189378.
Diverse boards help to build sustainability and resilience through informed decision-making. © Historic England Archive. DP189378.

How Can We Recruit More Diverse Members for Our Heritage Board? What Is Best Practice in Board Recruitment?

What is this resource for?

This resource is designed to provide guidance to heritage sector organisations on how to include more diverse members on their boards.

It is for organisations of all sizes and can be considered in the normal board member recruitment cycle and wider organisational change. It is also designed to give heritage organisations guidance on general board recruitment best practice.

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?

  • It is recognised good practice in the charity sector to have a diverse board, as this builds sustainability and resilience through informed decision-making
  • The heritage sector currently struggles to embed IDE (inclusion, diversity and equality) into its board recruitment processes
  • It may be necessary to bring in external experts if your current board is not diverse to identify and overcome barriers for potential trustees
  • Heritage boards should undergo a period of reflection before undergoing a recruitment process for diverse trustees
  • Application processes for heritage boards should be straightforward and flexible, offering well-considered accommodations where possible
  • Heritage organisations are advised to share their board role adverts as widely as they can

What do heritage boards look like at the moment?

Historic England's recent report, 'Barriers and Enablers to Board Diversity in the Heritage Sector', highlighted a consensus that the heritage sector's governance structures need to better represent the current population of the UK. Interviewees widely acknowledged that the sector is not diverse in its governance, workforce or reach.

A 2023 UK Heritage Pulse survey supports this view: 141 UK Heritage Pulse panel members responded to a short survey on successes and challenges in organisational governance.

Although almost half of respondents (47%) did not view recruitment of new members to governing bodies as an issue, many said that establishing diversity during this process and within the board itself was a challenge, with the remainder stating that it was difficult, or did not apply to them. Research across all sectors shows that board diversity brings multiple benefits. The Charity Governance Code says: "Boards should try to recruit people who think in different ways, as well as those who have different backgrounds."

The diversity principle within the Charity Governance Code recommends that boards undertake periodic training and reflection on diversity (and the board's responsibility around this) and remove, reduce, or prevent obstacles to people being trustees.

Trustees should seek to understand obstacles to make this process more effective. Training should involve working with organisations that represent the voices currently missing from your board.

Who is missing from heritage sector boards?

9 characteristics are protected under the Equality Act 2010:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

Young people, racially diverse people, disabled people and working-class people are under-represented on heritage sector boards. The under-representation is more apparent when it comes to chair roles.

When we speak about trustee diversity, we’re not just talking about demographics, we’re talking about the variety of members on a board. We are each as unique as our fingerprints, bringing a mix of our characteristics and life experiences to the boardroom. Our 'primary characteristic', identity or background might not be visible or become known to fellow trustees.

What does the trustee recruitment landscape look like?

Funders acknowledge the issue of a lack of diverse boards. For example, Arts Council England says: “We know there are barriers to entry into the sector for working-class people, and we’re committed to changing this.”

According to Getting on Board’s research:

  • 75% of charities struggle to recruit trustees
  • Just 10% of trustee vacancies are advertised
  • 90% of charities report that they recruited most of their current trustees through word of mouth and existing networks

Adapting recruitment practices, aiming for more representative boards, and reaching out to more diverse potential trustees can begin to address these issues and make governance more equitable.

What are the benefits of an inclusive board recruitment process?

You can access a much wider talent pool by having an open, inclusive recruitment process and reaching out to diverse candidate groups. Unfortunately, you might sometimes need to bring 1 or 2 resistant trustees on this journey. We hope it will not take long to convince them that building an inclusive board brings multiple benefits, but here are a few reasons.

They include:

  • Avoiding groupthink and potential gaps in knowledge and understanding (this leads to better decision-making, risk management and innovation)
  • Diversity of thought, experiences and perspectives (healthy discussion and debate)
  • Access to broader networks and markets
  • Reputational benefits that support both trustee and employee recruitment and retention

Not being like everyone else is a strength. Does your board acknowledge that hearing or seeing things from other perspectives will help the organisation see things differently? As one interviewee in Historic England’s recent report 'Barriers and Enablers to Board Diversity in the Heritage Sector' said: “It enables you to talk more to your customers. If the board is representative of them, it helps you enter new markets.”

Why else might you need board diversity?

Board diversity can increase your bottom line in other ways. Increasingly, funders expect the organisations they fund to be representative of the communities they serve. Some funders, such as Arts Council England, actively monitor board diversity as part of their funding agreements. They have expectations of marked progress around its Investment Principles, with better representation at organisational level and within audiences.

Arts Council England says: “As outlined in Let’s Create, we’ll be asking organisations who receive regular investment from us to agree targets against governance, leadership and their workforce. If they fail to meet these targets, they will lose funding.”

However, there’s nothing worse for an individual than feeling that they’re a token appointment. Nobody wants to be recruited for their protected characteristic(s) alone. Don’t pigeonhole someone based on their most visible characteristic, and don’t expect them to be a diversity expert or champion unless specifically recruited to fill this role. Don’t judge experience by years either – lived experience expertise is just as valuable, and youth does not invalidate experience.

Our report recommends better articulating the benefits of trusteeship (such as development and training opportunities, new experiences, and increased sector knowledge) while recognising that different people will have different reasons for getting involved.

How do we recruit for a diverse heritage board?

Trustees are collectively responsible and accountable for the overall management of the organisation. While taking responsibility for succession planning and recruitment is part of your role, you may not have been involved in recruitment before.

Reach Volunteering’s 'Trustee Recruitment Cycle' offers an excellent framework for succession planning, listing 6 key phases:

  • Reflect
  • Prepare
  • Advertise
  • Shortlist and interview
  • Appoint and induct
  • Evaluate

The amount of time you spend focusing on each phase will vary according to your board’s needs; you might begin with evaluating your last trustee recruitment round before reflecting on what you need now.


Take time as a collective to discuss what you need. This is a vital step. Undertaking a skills audit to identify skills gaps is a starting point, but also consider which personal characteristics and attributes would be valuable through a more comprehensive board audit.

These may not always be things you have considered previously. For example, knowledge of the local area, bringing a wide network or existing contacts within a service area your organisation is looking to develop, a profile or reputation within your sector — the list goes on.

We recognise that membership organisations may have to recruit from their membership (which is often not diverse), but you can plan and bring in new voices into your membership and sub-committee structures so there is a more diverse pipeline ready for when vacancies arise.


Remember that trustees recruit trustees. Agree who will:

  • Undertake recruitment
  • Provide input into the development of your trustee recruitment pack and/or role specification and advert
  • Interview
  • Support induction

You should also agree on timescales for shortlisting, conducting interviews, providing feedback and the board observation, appointing new trustees, and the induction process. Streamline your process so it isn’t long, confusing, or difficult for applicants.


Use open application processes via adverts as standard (but you can simultaneously identify and approach people you think would be good in the role by encouraging them to apply). You may wish to use a tool such as Applied, a behavioural, science-backed recruitment platform that offers anonymised applications, predictive sourcing and assessment.

In your advert, emphasise the opportunity to be part of strategic decision-making as a key benefit, as well as improving and representing the sector. Your advert should also be accessible, visible, shareable, and clear. Don’t just tuck your advert away on your website. Eliminate any sector-specific terminology in the role specification or recruitment pack.

Use vacancy listing sites and your own social media channels, and ask other organisations to help you share them to identify potential Trustees outside of your usual networks. If you have the budget, you could engage a Trustee recruitment agency with a track record of recruiting diverse board members.

Make your application process as straightforward as possible and be open to new approaches and adjustments, such as accepting applications by video. Some applicants will be more comfortable recording a short video rather than writing a cover letter. If you offer this, provide a suggested format and length for videos (around 2 to 3 minutes) to ensure the recruitment panel can view them.

Give applicants clear instructions and opportunities to share their strengths by specifying which questions or topics you’d like them to write about in their cover letter or talk about in their video. This gives them a framework that guides them to tell you what you want to know.

Let applicants know how to find out more information and how to apply, including the closing date for applications and interview dates. It is not good practice to set a rolling closing date for applications. If you close applications early because you believe you have received enough applications, you are doing a disservice to those who have been working to get their application to you by the deadline.

Offer pre-application sessions to chat with the CEO (or equivalent), chair or another board member and be prepared to answer some challenging questions from potential applicants.

The usual recruitment process is as follows:

  • Usually, application is through submission of a CV and cover letter, but you can also invite short video applications
  • Hold formal or informal interview(s)
  • Shortlist applicants based on transparent criteria that are included in the role advert
  • Invite shortlisted applicants to observe a board meeting before they come to a decision
  • Explain that the formal appointment will be made by board members at an AGM or another meeting
  • Make sure to arrange an induction

How do we shortlist and interview?

Q&A (question and answer) sessions work well for potential applicants. They offer an opportunity to learn more about the organisation and meet current trustees. Make sessions short, accessible and expectation-free; an online session can be ideal.

Some foundations of good interviewing practice include:

  • Giving people plenty of notice for when and where interviews will take place
  • Paying interview-related expenses
  • Sending applicants interview topics or questions in advance of the interview so that they can prepare. They will be joining the board as an equal, and this sends a signal that you are not seeking to put them on the spot at interview and are interested in hearing their views
  • Actively putting applicants at ease in interviews and emphasising that the interview will be a 2-way conversation
  • Offering feedback to unsuccessful applicants

If your current board is not diverse, consider bringing in an external person, such as a trusted delivery partner or someone within your network, to support the interview process.

How do we appoint and induct?

Being an 'only' (the sole person on the board from a racially diverse background or who is LGBTQI+ or has lived experience expertise, for example) can be challenging, so recruiting multiple trustees who share similar characteristics can help to prevent individuals from feeling obliged to share their personal experiences and educate other trustees.


Continuously evaluate your succession planning processes, taking your learning and making changes as needed.