A person with short blonde hair, wearing a bag. Reading a brochure inside the columned archway of an ancient stone building
A visitor reads a guide brochure whilst looking at the choir of Whitby Abbey. © Historic England Archive. PLB_N080804.
A visitor reads a guide brochure whilst looking at the choir of Whitby Abbey. © Historic England Archive. PLB_N080804.

How Can We Make It Possible for Our Employees to Sit on Boards of Other Organisations, and What Benefits Does This Bring?

What is this resource for?

This resource aims to clarify the benefits of board membership for both employees and their employers.

It explains why sitting on a board is good for individuals, their employers, and the wider sector. It also gives some practical advice on how organisations can support their staff to become board members, with details on the realistic time commitments and other aspects of board volunteering can have on an employee.

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?

  • Being a board member can have a significant positive impact on individual confidence and boost the skills of employees
  • Organisations that encourage their employees to take on board positions benefit from their increased networking and boosted skills portfolio
  • Board experience can fit well into continuous professional development (CPD) and yearly appraisal goals
  • Employees will need some support in terms of time dedicated to their board role and flexible working patterns

Why might one of our employees want to sit on a board?

Sitting on a board may seem intimidating or outside of the skills and experience of some employees, such as those in early or middle career stages and those in minority or marginalised groups, who face additional barriers to leadership roles.

The most recent Charity Commission research into the makeup of boards found that 92% of trustees are white, two-thirds are male, and the average age is between 55 and 64.

Many organisations are recognising that this lack of diversity is impacting their governance and operational performance and that board membership needs to be more accessible and inclusive.

Becoming a board member can significantly and positively impact an employee’s confidence, as well as build their skills, network of contacts, and experience working collaboratively on complex situations.

Some key benefits employees may gain from sitting on a board include:

  • Developing specialist skills including governance, HR management, finance and audit, risk management, project masterplanning, and heritage site management
  • Developing knowledge of the management, preservation, and public engagement on and with specific heritage types
  • Developing wider networks of heritage professionals from across specialisms
  • Developing leadership skills
  • Developing high-level communication skills, including holding space for challenging conversations, constructive challenge, negotiation, and compromise to consensus
  • Developing awareness of wider sector issues

There are also a range of motivations an employee may have for wanting to join a heritage board, including:

  • Wanting to give back to society and undertake public service
  • Volunteering for an organisation, site, or charity that represents a passion, an interest, or aligns with their values
  • Representing a community, identity, or background, particularly if they recognise they are currently under or unrepresented
  • Wanting to add experience to their CV or do some career development work
  • Wanting to develop their profile in the heritage sector, potentially in a specific specialism or type of heritage
  • Wanting to work 'hands-on' with a small charity and directly influence its projects, programming, or general operations
  • Wanting to make a large-scale impact on the sector by volunteering on the board of a large charity or public sector body

Both the benefits and the potential motivations can easily fit into an employee’s professional development targets or into an organisation's annual appraisal and development process, providing opportunities for continued professional development (CPD) and experience that would be difficult to match with traditional training opportunities and in-work development.

What are the benefits for us if our employees are on the board of a different organisation?

As well as benefits for the individual employee, there are many organisation-wide benefits to supporting staff to be board members:

  • Sharing examples of good practice from across the sector that can be applied in your organisation
  • Increased employee confidence and wellbeing
  • Networking across the heritage sector, opening up possibilities for collaborative working
  • Employee skills and experience development that is difficult to replicate through traditional training routes, as it is hands-on and lasts for the length of tenure on the board, giving a depth and breadth of learning opportunity
  • Opportunities for advocacy across the sector
  • Potential for reaching new and emerging audiences if opportunities for collaboration arise
  • On public sector and some third sector boards, increased experience in engaging with governmental sponsors such as the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)