Helping you prosper

Who are you? Addressing skills gaps in charities

In all seriousness, if you are a current trustee of a charity, right now you should be asking who are you and considering if you have all the skills needed on your board to navigate the current uncertainties which this week got a lot worse!

Previously I have written about how charities might look to seek more funding and about how charities might work together if they are struggling for funding or competing with other charities for the same money. But, another important action that should be being undertaken by trustees currently is a review of their current skills, critically evaluating if there are any gaps needing to be filled in the coming months. 

Often charities don’t review their skill base quite as often as they perhaps should which can lead to gaps. This exercise is usually only undertaken when a trustee leaves and perhaps this review should be part of an annual exercise starting now. In normal times, skills shortfalls may not be a huge problem and the charity can work around any such gaps, but with the circumstances that currently surround us, I would suggest that skill gaps might be a problem for charities right now and a review should be being undertaken as a priority. 

A short term gap could be met by buying in expertise; perhaps there is a legal or financial experience short term gap which could be met by using the services of the charity’s solicitor or accountant (taking into account that if the charity is audited, there may be restrictions on non-audit services that the accountant can offer without breeching independence rules).

I would suggest that currently there is a need in a great many charities for some strategic skills as the unprecedented times we live in will give a need for some experience of more detailed planning and focus on how to navigate the storm. I have not historically met many professionals who list ‘pandemic strategist’ on their CV so many boards may not have this particular skill on them!

Additionally, if perhaps two charities decide to work together, there may be a need for some human resource skill to ensure that relations between the two teams are harmonious and ensure any formal mergers are successful by preventing clash of cultures and managing any overlap. These examples are by no means a complete list and there will of course be many other gaps which may not have arisen previously.

Having identified a skill gap, careful consideration needs to be given to the people that might fill the position. It may be the case that people are more likely to volunteer right now which is clearly a positive. But, there is a need to ask the question The Who sang and make sure that the correct time is taken and that the correct process is followed in understanding who the volunteers are and whether they do indeed have the right skills (and are a good fit for the culture of the charity!). 

Those charities involved in working with vulnerable people or minors may have additional checks that need to be undertaken. There is of course a high degree of responsibility in being a trustee and the Charity Commission can investigate and take action if there are instances of a charity hiring unsuitable candidates, one only need read the latest from the Charity Commission website to read some horror stories of investigations where potentially unsuitable trustees have been hired. 

The next step

Some good information on how to select new trustees can be found on GOV.UK and of course your usual charity advisor at UHY will be able to help. Above all though, make sure you ask both yourself and any potential trustees that important question: Who are you?