The Informed Trustee – one year on

Julie HutchisonIt’s difficult to believe that it’s been a whole year since the launch of The Informed Trustee, STEP’s innovative course designed to equip current and aspiring trustees with the knowledge needed to be successful charity board members, reflects editor in chief Julie Hutchison TEP.

As we hoped at the outset, the course has supported a greater proportion of women and younger people to take on a trustee role. Our figures* show that 59 per cent of The Informed Trustee intake are women, and the students over the last year had an average age of 49-50. Both of these figures show a significant difference to those in the 2017 Taken on Trust report, published by the Charity Commission and others, which records trustees as 64 per cent male, with an average age of 60-62. This shows the course is supporting positive change in charity boardrooms. As well as individual registrations, a number of charities seeking to support groups of trustees have made enquiries for block bookings . One year on, and almost 100 students later, it’s good to see this happening.

The move to greater inclusivity is significant. Board diversity is not just a box-ticking exercise. The goal is to improve the nature and quality of charity board decision-making. A diverse board is better able to minimise ‘group think,’ and a range of voices is more likely to challenge established norms.

Another factor that marks out the course from others is the multi-jurisdiction choice. This is not just a course for those from one part of the United Kingdom. We have a writing team of 17 charity specialists from Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales, so that charity trustees, and those aspiring to be trustees, can find relevant course content wherever they’re based. It also reflects the cross-border reality of life in the UK, something I personally experience as a Scot who is on the finance committee of a charity in the north of England. Students can choose content based on their chosen jurisdiction; or view all for a complete picture across the jurisdictions if they prefer. The multiple-choice test at the end only shows questions from the jurisdiction selected.

With chapters covering communications and data, and a personal development pathway for trustees, the course offers a modern take on information needed by trustees in the 21st century, as well as core components on trustee responsibilities, accounts, risk management and fundraising rules, among others.

The decision to run the course online is also very significant. Students are free to dip in and out, or view course content on different devices, within the 12 month access period.

We have received some positive feedback from students. One wrote:

‘I feel it’s a valuable course for new trustees to gain knowledge, and for more experienced trustees as a refresh to ensure they are up-to-date. I would also say it is helpful for charity CEOs to access the course, so they too have an understanding of charity governance.’

Menai Owen-Jones, Trustee of ACEVO and CEO of The Pituitary Foundation.

On a personal note, launching The Informed Trustee has marked the moment in my working life when I moved from five to four days with Aberdeen Standard Capital, whose flexibility has been an enormous help as I created time for my ‘Friday life’ with The Informed Trustee and other projects. I’d also like to thank the writers from the various firms involved, for their support in creating the course content: BDO, Brodies, Chiene & Tait, Crowe, Edwards & Co, Finegan Gibson, Geldards, Hewitsons, Lindsays, Mills & Reeve, Moore Stephens, Shepherd + Wedderburn, Turcan Connell and Wrigleys.

Looking ahead, the course content is about to go through its 2019 refresh and update.  Public expectations of charities remain high; those trustees with The Informed Trustee under their belt will be better prepared for what lies ahead.

*Statistics taken from 88 per cent of students in year one of the course, who made a disclosure.

Julie Hutchison TEP is Founding Editor, The Informed Trustee

The Informed Trustee: three months on

Julie HutchisonIt’s now three months since the launch of The Informed Trustee, STEP’s online course for charity trustees in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. With Trustees’ Week being marked across the UK, it seems like a good moment to reflect on the story so far.

The Informed Trustee course was created as a practical response to two areas of concern. A series of reported events in charities brought the judgement and/or knowledge of charity trustees into question. The lack of diversity on charity boards also became evident. While the average age of a charity trustee is 61, figures show that 8,000 boards in England and Wales had an average age as high as 75. There’s also a gender imbalance of 64:36, with male trustees predominating.

Why online?

We chose an online training programme to remove a number of barriers limiting participation. Individuals anywhere can access course content, on whatever device is convenient for them, at whatever time of day. As the course is on-demand, attendees can dip in and out, approaching the course modules in whatever order they wish, over a 12-month period. We’re confident that this will broaden participation in trusteeship, by enabling trustees to fit their study around work and family commitments.

UK-wide

To ensure a truly UK-wide course, we sourced expert practitioners in charity law and finance from Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England, to ensure both quality and equality of provision for candidates across the jurisdictions.

We’re delighted to see that over 50 individuals are taking the online course, and that 64 per cent are women, a reversal of the usual figures in England and Wales as detailed in the 2017 Taken on Trust report (PDF). In addition, several candidates are in their 30s.

We’ve also seen group enquiries from charities that are considering The Informed Trustee course for their whole board, or for new trustees as part of their induction. I look forward seeing how take-up continues to expand over its first year, contributing to the development of charity trustees, which in turn will support charities in continuing to deliver confidently for their beneficiaries.

Julie Hutchison TEP, Founding Editor, The Informed Trustee