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About Boards

An effective board with a clear mission is essential for every voluntary and community organisation. But what are the roles, challenges and sources of support for board members? In this section you can find some great resources and links to a range of articles covering all aspects of boards and their duties – as well as some inspiring stories about how board members have learned new skills and helped their organisations.

Every board is different and unique. Its character comes from the people involved, the organisation they serve and their particular history but every board also faces similar challenges. Whether it is a management committee of a small local charity or a trustee board of a major national agency, a membership organisation or a social enterprise, each board still has to answer the same questions; are we making a difference to our organisation? Are we fulfilling our responsibilities, and ensuring the organisation we govern does the same?

There are many more expectations on boards today. As well as the familiar duties of ensuring legal compliance and financial probity, boards are now expected to play a leadership role; to set strategic direction; to be as inclusive and diverse as possible; to review and appraise their own activities; to attend to conflicts of interest and to manage risk - and all this to be fitted into monthly meetings at most, plus occasional away days. It's a tall order.

Many boards have begun to tackle their own development. Some might send members to conferences or courses; others will work with an adviser or consultant to identify their own agenda for change; others probably develop in a piecemeal way, tackling issues when they come up. When trustees leave, or a new chair is appointed, or a new CEO takes up leadership of the organisation, there's usually an opportunity - and often a need - to review aspects of governance.

The Governance Hub's task is to help boards improve their own performance. There are many different resources and services now available to help boards focus more sharply on their role and tighten their performance. Two of the most prominent ones are the Code of Governance for the Voluntary and Community Sector and the Trustee Standards. The Code sets out a detailed picture of good practice in governance, and the Standards outline what individual trustees need to know and do. The Hub has produced toolkits that help boards and trustees individually to use the Code and Standards. Each toolkit contains a range of practical exercises and activities, with downloadable handouts and worksheets. The Code toolkit and the trustee standards toolkit are available on this website, together with a range of downloadable resources.

The 21st Century Board

The Governance Hub has been developing a vision of what 21st century boards might look like. Our proposal is that the board of the future has 5 key characteristics:

It will be open and accessible

Boards can no longer be in the shadows. They need to be visible. They also need to reflect the communities they serve or from which they draw support. This means making sure trustees come from diverse backgrounds and have varied experience and perspectives. It also means finding ways to communicate the board's decisions and role as openly as possible, and working out how to listen to stakeholders. This might mean simple activities like putting photos of board members on a website or on a noticeboard if you're a small organisation. It might also mean communicating key messages after each meeting, to those who might be interested.

The Governance Hub's trustee recruitment toolkit can help you strengthen how you find and appoint new trustees, and ensure they're more diverse.

It will prioritise learning and development

Many organisations these days are 'learning organisations'. Boards can do this too. Making a clear commitment to learning and development is a vital step in becoming a high quality board. In practice, this means setting aside time for learning, and looking at the varied pathways that are available, then deciding what suits your board best. It may be a regular learning slot in each meeting; or an away day; or asking board members to take up varied opportunities such as e-learning, or mentoring, or taking part in a trustee network. It can also be very useful to compare notes with similar organisations through a board exchange. Set as a benchmark the idea that 10% of board time should be given to learning.

The Governance Hub's e-learning programme will be available in September. For advice and information about trustee networks, or to take part in an online trustee network go to

It will use external benchmarks

It is important these days that boards can show they achieve good practice by measuring against relevant standards. The Code of Governance is a key tool boards can use to show they're developing recognized good practice. Few boards can fulfill all the Code sets out right away; getting to the point where you can say that you comply fully will take some time and does not need to be rushed. But even whilst you're on the journey, the fact that you are working towards this external benchmark is an excellent indicator of developing high standards.

It will model good practice

Good practice may be as simple as making sure the board papers don't overload trustees and contain relevant information and clear indications of decisions needed. But is also means more challenging ideas like introducing appraisal for trustees, because staff have appraisal as part of their employment conditions, and it is recommended good practice for volunteers, so why not also for boards? It can be as simple as a 30 minute conversation with the chair. Each board should be able to point to some key areas where they're proud of their practice and willing to share it with others.

If your board has developed a particular area of good practice that you would be happy to write up for this website, please email

It will add value to the organisation

This is the biggest challenge. Governance should be a benefit to the organisation, not a burden. Boards need to spend time with staff, finding out what contribution they can make that would really help move things forward. This might be getting involved in problem-solving or thinking about new challenges at an early stage; or it might be more practical roles like fundraising or representing the organisation externally. It is worth exploring what some experts on governance suggest about how boards add value; the American academic, William Ryan, is one source, in his book 'Governance as leadership'.

Resources for Boards

The Good Governance Action Plan Workbook
Tesse Akpeki
NCVO £7.50
Lesson plans and practical advice for trustees and their boards

The Board Answer Book
NCVO £7.50
Compiled by Tesse Akpeki

Governance as Leadership Ryan etc

Tending your Board: a seasonal guide to improving the way your board works: a joint publication from bassac and the Governance Hub Free from the Governance Hub or bassac

Board - key resources:
National Occupational Standards for Trustees and Management Committee Members
The National Occupational Standards for Trustees and Management Committee Members (NOS) complement the Code of...

Presentation on Trustee & Management Committee Members National Occupational Standards Toolkit
This is the accompanying PowerPoint presentation for the Trustee Standards Toolkit.

Code of Governance Toolkit : A Practical Guide to the Code of Governance for the Voluntary and Community Sector
The toolkit is based on the national Code of Governance for the Voluntary and Community Sector and is designed to help...

Good Governance: A Code for the Voluntary and Community Sector
The code is intended to help and support board members in the important and rewarding work that they carry out. It...

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